TV reviews: Magic City, King & Maxwell

King & Maxwell's Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn, played by Sean King and Michell Maxwell (both above), re-enact the camaraderie of the male-female pair in Moonlighting.

SINGAPORE - Owning and running a hotel can be murder.

Literally.

People get thrown off a balcony, shot in a car with a prostitute or, mostly, end up being dumped in a lake at a limestone quarry doubling as a makeshift parking lot because their vehicles go into the watery grave too.

"We are in the hospitality business. We cater to our guests' needs," reasons Isaac "Ike" Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Losers, 2010), hotel owner and brooding front man of the latest super-sleek, glitz-blitz nostalgia-drama Magic City.

As far as bent morals go, he is a flawed decent man battling the devil on both sides of the law just to keep his business going and his family staying. Ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum Of Solace, 2008) plays Vera, his hot former nightclub-dancer wife.

Evans' hotel partner, Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston), is a big-time scary Jewish mobster so impulsively violent he shoots his dog for barking while he is talking on the phone.

A creepy-zealous district attorney, Jack Klein (Matt Ross), is on Evans' tail, but just cannot pin him down.

While Evans is close to the dead bodies, he does not know where they are buried.

The magic city is Miami, Florida, circa 1959, before casinos were legalised.

And by hospitality, Evans refers to his gleaming, glamorous Miramar Playa hotel at the scenic beachfront. It is a resort so swanky that famous celebrities converge here, stunning hookers snag corrupt political fat cats, dirty deals are cut, illegal gambling reigns and there is a bar right under the swimming pool.

This series' signature image is a giant window at the bar where people swim by as though they are in an aquarium.

It is the kind of Camelot-age excess which makes this show the era of Mad Men meeting the aura of Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos.

No, this is not Mad Men.

Nothing can top that since Morgan's Ike is no Don Draper, and Magic City is a blatant saga about bad men that is infinitely less layered, less clever and less fascinatingly conflicted than the nuanced drama about ad men.

Still, it is captivating.

First, the sets of Magic City - including the decor, decorations and especially the women - are detailed and stupendous.

Second, the behaviour and attitude of its period are just so grippingly appalling - mistresses and hookers are meat pieces labelled freely here as "whores" - that, secretly, some of us must hanker a bit for that most politically incorrect barbarism.

Most of all, it is the headiness and wantonness of that age that just keeps us fixated. Illicit sex and abject violence are a given, but Magic City's trump card is its free-wheeling laissez-faire stink of Miami vice and lure, consuming its victims with historical inevitability.

So, instead of the changing social mores of Mad Men, conservatism and an old-school order seem entrenched here.

I suspect that creator Mitch Glazer, a former music journalist, does not wish to over-probe the dark internal recesses in a rip-off of Mad Men.

He is going more for the exterior exertions of The Sopranos in a fun-in-the-sun mode.

Ike, Vera and Ben's troika of heart, danger and emotion makes Magic City a compelling picture of light and dark basking under an unmerciful Miami sun.

Meanwhile, over at King & Maxwell, a chirpy twosome re-enacts that old male-female camaraderie from the 1980s detective series, Moonlighting.

The only difference is, Sean King (The Closer's Jon Tenney) and Michelle Maxwell (X-Men's Rebecca Romijn) are not moonlighters, but are working full-time as private investigators in Washington DC after being axed from the United States Secret Service for botching their protective assignments.

The dude is the gentler of the two and does not want to carry a gun. His platonic gal pal is the tougher, rougher woman of action who fires her weapon at will and enjoys propelling herself as the alpha partner.

At first, I thought this series, made from American author David Baldacci's novel series, was quite lame. After watching a few more episodes, I am beginning to like the pair the way I like my old socks.

The show makes for easy viewing. There is a jauntiness in the duo's steps that makes you feel like you are nursing a comfy drink at a bar that will not chase you away.

And there is not even a hint of malice or a threat of rude sex in that, thankfully, nobody is tearing anybody's clothes off here because Tenney, whom I do not see often in shows, looks like a drippy wet towel with the sex appeal of a soap holder.

Romijn is the better known star of the two, who, without her Mystique make-up in X-Men, seems chubbier.

I like her because she appears perfectly at ease co-fronting a small show by inserting her pleasant smiley round face into the frame. I also think it is a great idea to feature a pair of ex-Secret Service agents because politics, government and the White House are an endless plot resource and at the very least, a glorified security guard story can still be an entertaining one.

See?

On occasions, I let my guard down for fun. Just like this likeable guarding pair.

stlife@sph.com.sg

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