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TNT's Mob City is disappointingly deadened


Jon Bernthal, formerly of The Walking Dead, heads cast of Mob City. TNT photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Dec. 4th at 8 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Jon Bernthal, Neal McDonough, Ed Burns, Jeremy Luke, Alexa Davalos, Milo Ventimiglia, Robert Knepper, Jeffrey DeMunn
Produced by: Frank Darabont, Michael De Luca, Elliiot Webb, Alissa Phillips, Dane Renee Ashmore

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Painfully striving to be a new form of L.A. Confidential with film noir sprinkles, TNT’s “EAGERLY ANTICIPATED THREE-WEEK TELEVISION EVENT” is looking like another so-so outing from the “We Know Drama” network.

That’s damned disappointing, because Mob City is ramrodded by Frank Darabont, show runner for the first season of AMC’s The Walking Dead before that network ran him off.

Darabont also directed feature films such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, further raising expectations for Mob City. But based on its first two hours (the last four will air on Dec. 11th and 18th), this is shaping up as a languorously paced, at times ridiculously pretentious tale drawn from an acclaimed 2009 book with the elongated title of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City..

Darabont has recruited former Walking Dead co-star Jon Bernthal to play his leading man, brooding L.A. detective Joe Teague, circa 1947. We first get an extensive earful of his narrative voice during a table-setting look at young gun mobsters Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Sid Rothman on the nighttime streets of 1925 New York City. (Which very much look like what they actually are -- the Warner Bros. back lot.)

Siegel, Lansky and Rothman eventually spray a ridiculous amount of automatic weapons fire on their enemies. Reload? Not when you’re brandishing machine guns with apparent 1,000 bullet capacities during the Prohibition Era.

Anyway, Teague eventually lets it be known that good and evil are not always black and white. “I live in a world of gray hats,” he says near the end of his voice-over.

Mob City is violent in fits and spurts. But it’s mostly very talky. Particularly when a small-timer named Hecky Nash (guest star Simon Pegg) propositions Teague at Bunny’s Jungle Club, whose bartender is a knockout gorgeous black woman who speaks in almost laughably sultry tones. Hubba hubba.

Hecky has some incriminating negatives and a blackmail scheme in mind. And if Teague will provide a little backup, there’s a sweet little $1 grand in it for him. They eventually get around to making a deal and meeting a pair of thugs in a forebodingly remote location. No hurry, though. Hecky is prone to soliloquies, such as this one: “This city. So damned beautiful. It’s like a sky full of stars. But only from a distance. Up close? It’s all gutter.”

Let’s just say that bad things eventually get around to happening. But we won’t say how.

Hour 2. likewise pokily paced, introduces tough-talking, beauteous Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos). She pumps some life into these proceedings while being grilled by a caucus of cops headed by police chief William Parker (Neal McDonough), also known derogatorily as “Bill the Boy Scout.” He’s fixated on taking down L.A. crime boss Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), a squat, unrefined counterpoint to the suaver, handsomer Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns).

Parker turns out to be point man for one of Mob City’s more labored exchanges.

“Last night we expected a soft pitch and somehow it turned into a fastball that got by us,” he deduces. “We suffered a huge loss.”

“Just an inning, not the ballgame,” retorts mob task force head Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn).

“It’s never the game,” says Parker. “If I thought that, I’d hang up my badge.”

Please do.

Mob City’s’s best menacing presence is reliable Robert Knepper (Prison Break) as the grown-up and very unsavory Sid Rothman. He talks in a snarl, even when masquerading as a priest hearing confession. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of his penance. But it’d be nice to be on the receiving end of more scenes from him.

Bernthal’s detective Teague never really catches fire in these first two hours, although his motives for doing what he does slog their way towards moderate interest.

All in all, though, Darabount is oddly intent on over-loading Mob City with off-camera narration, on-camera verbosity, bluesy horns, torch singing and puddle-soaked nighttime L.A. streets -- even though it never rains. I guess this is supposed to make the after-dark scenes pop, but it’s a tired device that should be retired along with two other TV and movie staples -- unwrapped gifts and barely filled cups of coffee.

Disciples of Darabont may still kneel at this altar. But in reality, Mob City at best is barely above average drama from a guy who presumably is still capable of far better. Boardwalk Empire it’s not. Not by a long shot -- or even a rat-a-tat-tat.


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