Mob City Series Premiere Review: Noir, What Is It Good For?

By Tim Surette

Dec 05, 2013

Mob City S01E01 / S01E02: "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" / "Reason to Kill a Man"

In the opening scenes of TNT's Mob City, we were reminded for probably the bajillionth time in our lives that in the olden days, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. But in the 1940s, gray hats were the hot fashion trend, because everyone was crooked to some degree—it was just a matter of determining how far they were bent. That's the crux of Mob City, that everyone is scrambling for an opportunity to line their jacket pockets with cheddar at the expense of morality, even at the risk of getting so wrapped up in the world of organized crime that they become shells of their former selves. And of course there are the dames! Those darned dames!

Mob City is the new baby of Frank Darabont, the ousted co-creator of AMC's The Walking Dead, and sadly, the vision that's brought to life in Mob City is not his. Instead, it belongs to the film noir legends of decades past. The series robs the graves of the genre's classics so hard that even the eggs in your fridge will be hard-boiled by the time you've reached the first commercial break. 

Tonight's opening two hours—"A Guy Walks Into a Bar" and "Reason to Kill a Man"—were one big cloud of secondhand smoke and lingering shots of big-band performances in nightclubs, as if Darabont bought a copy of Film Noir for Dummies and ran down the checklist one item a time. People spoke in an old-timey style (something about a Jake?) while their faces are half shadowed, sexy women with outrageous names (Jasmine Fontaine) dangled cigarettes from their fingers and shot daggers from their eyes, and voiceover told us just how much everything back then was a pain in the ass. And that's because Mob City is film noir to the core. Mob City's blood runs black and white. Mob City has Stage IV lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, it's that noir. Mob City only drinks Pinot Noir. Mob City's favorite animal is the Noir-wahl. Noir, noir, noir.

But what Darabont has created is certainly beautiful to look at. There's something just right about series' visuals, which makes it palatable and perfectly suited to what the show wants to accomplish. As I said in my preview of the series, Mob City doesn't really add anything to the gangster cannon, so it felt compelled to go hardcore noir. But given that the series' original title was L.A. Noir, is it really a surprise that it ripping off/paying homage to the classics by wearing the skin of its influences? 

That atmosphere was quite successful in the first episode, "A Guy Walks Into a Bar"—which was by far the better half of the two-episode debut. Our primary Gray Hat was former Marine and current cop Joe Teague (The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal, who's once again playing an asshole). Teague spent the series opener helping stand-up comic Hecky Nash (guest-star Simon Pegg a.k.a. Shaun of Shaun of the Dead) blackmail a gangster, and the slow burn worked in large part because it was interesting to see Teague play both sides of the law and be fifty shades of gray. He agreed to pin down mobsters for the LAPD's new Mob Squad while also promising Hecky he'd act as Hecky's muscle, and in the end, he did neither. He shot Hecky after the deal went down and spun a tale about being clueless for the cops. I guess it was supposed to be a twist at the end of the episode when it was revealed that he'd been working for the mob all along, but the more compelling part of the story was that the question of Teague's motivation in partnering up with the blacker hats and giving back the fifty grand that we thought was his to keep.  

Unfortunately that motivation was revealed to be love, or ex-love, in the boring and biteless second episode. I can barely tell you what "Reason to Kill a Man" was about, because once the focus shifted away from Teague and toward the rest of the characters, things got a lot less interesting. Watching Robert Knepper (T-Bag!) deliver a couple plates of Psghetti to some mobsters before lighting them up with a couple pistols while the victims' bodies shook and jerked—and then handing the parmesan to a customer who mistook him for a waiter—was great, but otherwise, the episode mostly rambled. And its attempt at a big "twist" was merely a wrinkle: Teague's obsession with Hecky's old lady, and his reason for taking the job with Hecky, stems from their past as a married couple. But if that wasn't obvious to you half an hour before it was revealed, then please allow me to sell you these deeds to some brand-new property on the moon. 

However: I do like Mob City's cast a whole lot, and after spending a few seasons defending Shane on The Walking Dead from the unreasonable people of #TeamRick, it's nice to see Bernthal back on my TV screen. He's less of an actor in Mob City than he is a presence, which is exactly the type of performance you want for his character. Jeffrey DeMunn, another Walking Dead alum (he played Dale) who followed Darabont over to TNT, is great as Hal Morrison, head of the Mob Squad. But it's Jeremy Strong (The Good Wife, pictured below with the requisite dangling cigarette) as Mob Squad-member Mike Hendry who's my early favorite for best character in the series. "He found me under a rock," Mike said without an ounce of sarcasm and with a whole gallon of FU when Teague asked how the team had been assembled. 

One thing the show lacked in its first two episodes was a compelling villain. Micky Cohen should be that man—he's the big mob guy, after all—but so far, all I want to do is dress him up in doll clothes and snuggle with him. He just doesn't seem like a bad dude. In fact, he's kind of nice? I dunno, I'm scared of his henchmen, and Bugsy Siegel (Ed Burns) seems like he means business, but right now the only characters I don't want to meet in a dark alley are Joe Teague and the chief of police, Billy the Boy Scout (Neal McDounough). If Mob City is going to be a tale about gangsters and cops and good guys vs. bad guys, don't we need some bad guys? I don't really see any bad guys yet, and that takes a big bite out of the series' dramatic impact.

So Mob City isn't the television event I was hoping it would be. The disparity between the first two episodes has me worried about the future of the series, and because I am crippled by pessimism, I'm guessing the series will ultimately resemble "Reason to Kill a Man" more than the superior "A Guy Walks Into a Bar." And in the end, it might be very short, one-and-done minieries. TNT scheduled it to premiere in December, and then condensed its run to three weeks with two episodes airing every Wednesday. That's not a good sign. But it may be all we really want from this show. 


– Boom! Bang! Face right into the pasta! That's a mobster's death. That's how I want to go out when I die... asphyxiated by a mouth full-a meatball.

– All those nightclub singing scenes... do we really need those? 

– Ahhh, the 1940s, where no woman was unattractive and all them were insatiable horndogs. 

– I don't know why, but I was unreasonably excited to see Milo Ventimiglia on television again. And I didn't even like Heroes.

  • Comments (53)
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  • purgetheunfaithful Jan 19, 2014

    I think the private eye the Picard played on the holodeck on the Enterprise was more realistic

  • MiraTellia Dec 18, 2013

    I kept laughing were I don't think I was meant to - it was so cliché in parts that it felt almost like a parody. Only got through one episode, and won't be coming back - shame because it's a great cast

  • mad-pac Dec 18, 2013

    I thought the bartender, played by Mekia Cox, was very sexy and seductive. In my version of the story, I'd have asked her out and forgotten about Simon Pegg. but unfortunately when she opened her mouth,her lines were so cliched full of "streetwise wisdom" that they felt like they were coming out of an old retired cop turned detective or something, and it was strange.

    At some point I remember the episode of Lois and Clark The New Adventures of Superman in which Lois Lane loses her memory and thinks she's a character from a noir novel she was writing, and she starts speaking with snappy lines under the assumed name of Wanda Detroit. "My life sounds like a bad novel." Well, that's the impression i had from the dialogue from this show.

    But the visuals, wow! They were great, and in the end, with the second episode, in which Teague's motivations became clear, I felt the story was well established, and I feel like following the subsequent episodes now. And I hope they renew this for a second season.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 11, 2013

    Finally got around to watching it. It was hollow and the characters one-dimensional, and without narration of a book or the short-format hurry-up storytelling of a movie there was nothing really to say of any importance. We're told something big is happening, but shown only little moments that feel like nothing.

  • danharr Dec 08, 2013

    Easy people it's a 3 week project and it's good enough for 3 weeks by any stretch of the imagination. I highly doubt it would survive a full season but I'm willing to bet a once a year special would be goo for at least two more years.

  • Mantis82 Dec 08, 2013

    Lets not give Frank Darabount too much credit for Walking Dead, comics with full storyline have been out since 2003, he helped developed it, but it was really Robert Kirkman's vision.

  • HRM Dec 07, 2013

    I really enjoyed this show. It was a hard-boiled novel come to life. Great acting. Glad to see Ed Burns on TV. This show will be great with a six episode season every year....I hope they keep to this format.

  • stevei Dec 07, 2013

    Love this show. I don't know if I would tune in every week if it was a series but if they just did six episodes a year this would be must watch TV.

  • marlonjones Dec 07, 2013

    I liked it. All the elements were there except for maybe a more gripping storyline. I loved the whole film noir aspect and it's done very well. I loved the music especially and the singers feature is great to me.
    And the cast is excellent! Never was a big fan of Bernthal, but i love him in this. And it's got Edward Burns! A personal fav of mine and playing Bugsy is even better! I'm def tuning in next time but I do hope the story gets more intriguing.

  • TVcom_editorial Dec 06, 2013

    Comment test.

  • mad-pac Dec 18, 2013

    You passed. Congratulations!

  • chrelle66 Dec 06, 2013

    There appears to be a lot of trouble with the comments on AHS:Coven ep 308's review page.

  • MarlboroMagpi Dec 06, 2013

    Hey after reading again, my comments ACTUALLY really DID not show up ! i wrote it yesterday !

  • MarlboroMagpi Dec 06, 2013

    Did you guys do that because so little people commeneted here? Perhaps many members here did not watch the show.

  • mad-pac Dec 18, 2013

    Little people, big people. People of all sizes actually.

  • MarlboroMagpi Dec 18, 2013

    Okay. So few people. Happy @!

  • mad-pac Dec 18, 2013

    I couldn't be happier!

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