From the post-apocalyptic world of “The Walking Dead”, to the Los Angeles gangster life in the 1940’s, Frank Darabont now brings us “Mob City”. TNT’s most recent mini-series focuses on the lives of the cops involved in trying to bring down Bugsey Seigel (Ed Burns), Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), and the rest of the LA mob. On the frontlines is Detective Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), whose strange goal throughout the season is to keep his ex-wife safe.
As far as neo-noirs go, “Mob City” is hitting all the right points. It’s got all the elements needed for it to be considered a true reincarnation of that era. The set design and visuals are all excellent and authentic and the show certainly looks very real. The plot also makes sense and everything can be logically followed; point A leads to point B, and does not skip to H or L. But the problem lies here: no matter how nice a show looks, how well thought out it may be, if your characters are bland and boring, and we can’t understand why they do the things they do, there’s going to be a problem.
“Mob City’s” protagonist is the biggest problem. Joe Teague is supposed to be this poor cop that’s accidentally pulled into all this madness in the fight between the LAPD and the mob, but most of the time, he brings trouble down on himself . . . and not for very good reason, either. At the end of the first episode, he commits murder in the name of ‘love’, but we as an audience are given no hint that this is what’s motivating him, nor any other plausible reason at all for his actions. For a one-time thing, this might have been acceptable, but that’s all Joe does. And to make matters worse, Joe is just as plain as his name. I was rooting for one of the murderers to win against him, because at least the other guy seemed a little bit interesting and, oh, alive.
Bland characters pretty much pollute “Mob City”. Everyone is a stock character with little to no personality of their own and the show is completely and utterly focused on simply having characters act the way they do to advance the plot. Motivations appear way too late, if they come at all, and everyone is generally mysterious and aloof for no reason. The only characters who have even a smidgen of personality are Micky Cohen and Sid Rothman, a skilled murderer working for Cohen and Siegel.
I think the other big problem that “Mob City” has is its misdirected focus. Darabont and the rest of the writers may have had a bigger idea for their show, but it looks like they were putting too much faith in a second season to explore their plot and the conflict between Mickey Cohen and William H. Parker. But “Mob City” would have benefited greatly from having a contained plot that spanned just this one season, and then worrying about what comes next. The story of Cohen and Parker isn’t new to TV or movies; we would have guessed that there is more to come, should they get a second season. Instead, whatever potential “Mob City” might have had got squandered in the effort to have a bigger story than was needed.
It’s not surprising at all that “Mob City” got brushed to the burn-off season when everyone else is much too busy re-watching all their favourite Christmas movies. There’s really nothing new here, but if you want some old, predictable gangster story, check out “Mob City”.