'Magic City' series lacks its own

Steven Strait as Stevie Evans and Elena Satine

Steven Strait as Stevie Evans and Elena Satine as Judy Silver in "Magic City." (Credit: Starz Entertainment)

DRAMA PREMIERE "Magic City"

WHEN | WHERE Previews Friday night at 11 on Starz, then moves into its regular 10 p.m. Friday slot next week

REASON TO WATCH It's pretty, but . . .

WHAT IT'S ABOUT New Year's Eve 1958, and Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Grey's Anatomy"), boss of Miami Beach's luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, is facing an impending strike by hotel workers. Worst possible time because Frank Sinatra is set to play the main ballroom that night, and if Frank sees one empty seat, he'll never be back. The Miramar will be sunk.

A father of three and already preoccupied with his daughter's impending bat mitzvah, Ike makes a rash decision. He turns to underworld boss Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston) for help, and, with a name like that, we may as well add the term "uh-oh" at this juncture. The Butcher wants to help, but there is a price. "Six years ago, this was all sand and mosquitoes, and now it's the Miramar," says Ike's young, new, beautiful wife, Vera (Olga Kurylenko). The Butcher wants to take it all away.

MY SAY Starz has already handed this "Mad Men"-ish newcomer a second season, which is some kind of crazy. Most shows -- like 99.9 percent -- are launched, build an audience (or don't) and then get either the good or bad news. But "Magic City" has catapulted that birthing process, and you have to wonder why.

It's certainly pretty to behold, with a sumptuous set shaded in pastels and brimming with countless period details, so "Magic City" should be compelling. The opening credit sequence is clearly a winner -- all bluesy and mysterious, a naked mermaid floats across the screen, while dead bodies (presumably mob victims) drift into view. Then the show begins and breaks the spell. Dramatically inert, "Magic City" is the viewing equivalent of doing laps in a vat of glue. Even Morgan's Evans -- putatively a tough guy in bed with the mob -- projects all the menace of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Too bad. This looked interesting (although looks have been known to deceive).

BOTTOM LINE Sleepy, listless, dull. But it has a great set; the beach and clouds on the horizon are alluring.

GRADE C-

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