Mob City Brings Out The Best In Its Stellar Cast

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Mob City, a six-part television event starring The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal and Heroes' Milo Ventimiglia, will kick off on Wednesday after Arrow.

You'd be a fool to miss it.

Created by Frank Darabont, the writer/director/executive producer who brought The Walking Dead to life at AMC, Mob City revolves around all the things you'd expect a noir drama about the power struggle between the mob and the Los Angeles Police Department in the late '40s to revolve around: there's a murder, there's a gorgeous girl with a mysterious past, there's a cop too honest to be true (even though, in this case, it's real-life police chief William Parker) and a cop too hard to be totally straight. They're surrounded by a cast of characters including Simon Pegg in a role that has echoes of Danny DeVito's character in L.A. Confidential--he's the comic relief, except that what's going on in his life is so high-stakes, and so key to the plot, that it's difficult to picture him as being there just for laughs.

mob-city-ed-burnsthAWith all of those character types represented, Darabont's noir world is a highly fictionalized version of real-life events, depicting the war between Mickey Cohen and William Parker as seen through the eyes of a group of characters both real and created. It's shot in the same noir, stylized way that films like L.A. Confidential have done so well, although with a visual aesthetic that's unique to Darabont. More than arguably anything else he's made since, this series feels like it could take place in the world of The Shawshank Redemption.

Two episodes in--the two that will air on December fourth, with two more following each Wednesday until the series wraps--it's hard to find much fault in Mob City. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bernthal, Ventimiglia and Ed Burns all turning in the kind of performances that get you noticed by Emmy voters.

Pegg, in particular, deserves a shout-out because the man has gone so far outside of what you would ordinarily consider his comfort zone and still managed to deliver a performance that stands shoulder to shoulder with the heavy hitters that litter the cast. Neal McDonough, who only appears in a few scenes of the first two episodes, delivers a virtuoso performance; some fans and critics will likely criticize his portrayal of Parker as wooden, but the Band of Brothers and Captain America: The First Avenger star is really playing a character who is bottling up his emotions. It's a credit to McDonough that with so few lines and stage directions, he manages to communicate the passion bubbling beneath Parker's surface--and I hope both he and Burns get much more camera time as the series progresses.

Milo Ventimiglia deserves all the credit in the world for his portrayal of mob lawyer and fixer Ned Stax, a character whose complexities unfold throughout the first two episodes and, even at the end of those, you really have to be thinking beyond the existing plot and reading between the lines to see just how good he is at what he does. While Jon Bernthal is the point-of-view character, and he turns in a stellar performance as the kind of traditionally-staid noir leading man, his character wears everything on his sleeve. There's a particular plot that may point to a deeper, more complex arc for Joe Teague, but at this stage it's pretty straightforward.

john-bernthal-milo-ventimiglia-mob-cityThe story itself is structured in an interesting way; each of the episodes have what seems to be a single, driving event and while they're interconnected, it's also worth noting that the resolution the viewer gets at the end of the episode is minimal. In spite of feeling like its own distinct chapter, the episodes are entirely dependent on one another for closure. One assumes that the whole series will go like this and will basically be treated as a six-hour made-for-TV movie. The closest analogue I can come up with in recent memory was the network TV adaptation of The Stand by Stephen King. There was quite a bit of meat to each installment, but it sometimes just kind of...ended...for the week.

The result is that the series feels so far like a slow burn. There are elements left at the end of the pilot that seem, if the episode were really a standalone story, like they've got a satisfactory enough ending and will just drift off into the aether. These elements are all brought back in episode two, bigger and more integral to the plot than you could have expected.