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'Mob City' review: 'Noir' in old L.A.

Alexa Davalos in a scene from "Mob City."

Alexa Davalos in a scene from "Mob City." Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Mob City"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT From "The Walking Dead's" Frank Darabont, this six-hour miniseries is about an ex-Marine, now cop Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), in postwar Los Angeles. The mob -- led by Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) and Bugsy Siegel (Valley Stream's Edward Burns) -- is trying to muscle its way into positions of power occupied (precariously) by a corrupt police department, led by William Parker (Neal McDonough) and his mob squad leader, Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn). In the opening episode, Teague's world edges closer to the mob's when he's asked to help a comic with underworld ties.

MY SAY There's pretty much one obvious way to approach any new project by Frank Darabont: with unbridled enthusiasm. And that's reasonably justified by his best-known works, the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" and the first season of "The Walking Dead." "Mob City" -- loosely based on a 2009 nonfiction book by John Buntin, "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City" -- has got to be wonderful, right?

Then, the cold realization sets in: maybe not.

"Mob City" is all hard-boiled boilerplate. No character, at least none in the opener, ever comes fully alive. They're all too busy acting like characters think they should act when doing "noir." Cigars aren't smoked, they're chomped. Drinks aren't sipped. They're slugged. These tough guys grimace. They growl. They glare furtively from under the shadow the brim of their rakish fedoras casts over their hardened faces.

Speaking of shadows, "L.A. Confidential" -- both the movie and the other novels of James Ellroy's celebrated "L.A. Quartet" series -- cast long ones here, too. You wait for the series to break free of these powerful antecedents. On Wednesday night, it never does.

There is hope, however. Both the first two episodes end with nice twists that tend to reshape character, motive and plot. They shake things up, in a promising way. Will that promise be fully met over the next couple of weeks? Maybe. With an excellent cast, and Darabont, unbridled enthusiasm dies hard.

BOTTOM LINE Glimmers of hope force their way through the fog of noir cliche.


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