There’s a naked woman swimming around to a kitschy-cool late 50’s instrumental. Then the woman’s gone and there’s a shark gliding through the turquoise water. Pan out, there’s a man in a suit and this is his aquarium.
Welcome everyone, to Magic City.
Magic City is apparently the land of the Snorkels. If the Snorkels were dead bodies buoying at the bottom of a gigantic fish tank. Up jolts awake a shirtless John Winchester. Or Denny Duquette, if you prefer that deceased version of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, go with that. I’m assuming, given that JDM is top billed in the credits, he’s not going to croak within 5 episodes. That’s nice.
Meet Ike Evans. The nightmare has left him sweaty and panting. That’s also nice. He glances over at the pretty brunette sleeping soundly next to him before getting out of bed. Turns out he’s not just shirtless. Starz is a lovely, generous network.
Ike throws on a robe and lights what I’m betting is a Cuban cigar. We’re in Miami Beach on New Year’s Eve 1958 overlooking the early morning ocean from the balcony. It’s gorgeous, as is the pool off to the side below, until he realizes that his lady’s floofy white poodle is floating in the water. He’s pissed, and he’s blaming the union picketers on the front step of his business establishment. Ike tosses the poor pooch’s body at a picketer with one hand and hands a wad of cash off to a lackey with the other, with strict orders for the guy to scrounge up a replacement pet.
He’s got a bigger problem: the union ain’t gonna go scab just to deliver his liquor and he’s got some thirsty people coming to see Sinatra ring in ’59 at Ike’s luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel. He sends his son, Danny, to find his other son, Stevie, so they can take care of this situation.
Now, Ike may be stressing about all this, but he’s a proud papa of a hotel owner, going so far as to personally train the new kid, Ray, to be aware of the ocean-scented air that should be wafting from tiny vents, but currently isn’t. And to keep the temp cold so the ladies have a place to comfortably wear their furs without sweating their edges out. See? LUXURY. Learn the illusion, live the illusion, maintain the illusion.
Meet Stevie. Well, at the moment Stevie is very business getting some *ahem * attention from his girl while driving… and driving off the road in the process. Stevie is clearly a classy fellow, he climbs out of the car, which is hers by the by, and leaves it behind as she wades through the water after him.
Meet Ike’s dad, Arthur. Arthur, it seems, is in a mandolin band that plays sweet tunes under the palm tree shade. Ike looks pretty impressed by his pop’s skills, too. Ike is his dad’s ride back home, where he’s apparently in the kind of health that requires a hot at-home nurse whom Ike’s dad likes to leer at. It’s the ‘50s though, so she indulges the lechery. Arthur is already aware of the dearly departed dog issue that Ike is dealing with; he also seems to be aware of Ike’s “partners.” Y’know, the ones Ike is swearing he doesn’t have? Them.
Back at the hotel, Stevie is on the hunt for his father. His father isn’t who he comes across.
Meet the lovely brunette from the opening scene, Vera Evans. All of Vera Evans, sunbathing nude on the balcony. I’m hoping, judging by the way Stevie is salivating all over the filter of his Winston Gold, that she’s his stepmother. They talk briefly about the unlucky strike going on outside the hotel. Vera says Ike claims everything, everything is gonna be alright now. Stevie says if Ike thinks it, then it must be true.
Remember Danny? He’s rendezvousing with one of the hotel maids, Mercedes. Finally. I mean, someone had to be. She’s grumpy because she has to work, Danny is floored by this. Work? On New Year’s Eve? With Sinatra playing mere footsteps away? Why would she do this? She reminds him of her station in life versus his station in life. Danny pushes for her to accompany him, telling her he’ll get her shift shifted. Danny is very naïve about class distinctions; it’s kinda adorable actually. Mercedes tries to dismiss him by telling him she simply has nothing to wear for such an evening.
In the meantime, Ike goes to visit union head Mike Strauss, who tells him he needs to start looking for the union label. Ike is unwilling, he already pays his staff better than other hotels, he’ll be damned if he’s gonna submit to the man, he’d rather save his empire. Strauss curtly tells him he’ll do what he can to get the picket line erased for the evening.
Never the less, the Evans men are prepping for the return that is due to inevitably happen. Can’t have a New Year’s bash with Ol’ Blue Eyes if the joint is dry. What better way to get around the union than to find people who need money more than they want rights.
The interesting thing about the Miramar is that it really is selling the illusion, the façade. Behind the glitzy and convenient hotel shop fronts are backroom betting boards and talk of Ben Diamond, Ike’s mystery “partner.” His bookie tells Ike that now’s the time to strike with Benny D, since he’s on his way back from his honeymoon. With his third wife. The other two died during childbirth. What a coinkydink.
That’s not the only thing Ike has to deal with, he’s also gotta figure out the night’s seating chart. Where does a semi-crooked hotel owner seat the Kennedys for Sinatra’s show? Where, oh where? Meh, doesn’t matter, they canceled anyway. A strike is bad PR. On top of that, his daughter Lauren is having a fit about wanting Frankie Avalon to play at her Bat Mitzvah. The temper tantrum would make any girl on Sweet Sixteen proud, it’s complete with a “she’s not my mother” dig at Vera. SO glad she’s not their mother! Also, it helps the view figure out that the family is Jewish. Which is helpful for anyone who didn’t catch on with the entire family constantly using their surname.
Vera is stressing out too. Her poodle is acting funny, growling at her and ignoring her commands. Ike reassures her that it’s their fault for sending out stress vibes.
Ike sucks it up and heads to Ben Diamond’s place. Splashing around naked in Diamond’s pool is the new Mrs. Diamond, who, if my nailpolish identification is on point, is the same girl who kissed Stevie Evans a few scenes ago. That’s gonna go well.
Meet Ben Diamond. Benny D is a cigar-puffing, speedo-wearing Ron White look-alike, with a faux air of helpfulness and a tone that says “Scorpion King.” With a hot wife. Mobsters, man. But Ike is there with his tail between his legs asking for a favor; all he wants is for Ben to put the fear of Diamond into Mike Strauss so the Sinatra gig can go off without a hitch. Ben is good with that… as long as Ike hands over the rest of the Miramar to him. Things get heated and Ike says Ben can have it, as long as he realizes that the cool kids won’t show up and shell out if Ike isn’t the one shaking hands and kissing babies in the lobby.
Benny gets real benign real quick. In his own creepy way.
Meet Judi. I’m not sure what Judi’s game is yet, but she’s a classically cliché late ’50s bombshell. Who’s awfully snuggly with Stevie. I’m keeping my eye on her. And on Stevie, for that matter. Kid gets around.
Remember Mercedes? She just found a swanky red dress in the locker room. Of course she did.
Oh, and remember Mike Strauss? He was entertaining a nice blonde woman, but now there’s a gun in his mouth.
Over at the Miramar the party is getting started. Ike is dressed in his best black and white tux, greeting guests, including Ben Diamond. Mrs. Diamond the Third is nowhere to be seen and Ike, ever the host, asks about her. Ben shrugs and assumes she’s powdering her nose. If that’s a euphemism for “cheating on me with your son on the beach,” then yes, yes she is powdering her very shiny nose.
The wrap up: Sinatra sings, Mr. Diamond isn’t as dumb as we think, Strauss stops the strikers, Stevie figures out who he schtupped, and Havana is in havoc.
So, what did I think of the pilot?
Pros: Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The costuming. The premise.
Cons: JDM is clean-shaven, points deducted.
Discomfort level: I sense the same kind of casual racial and gender prejudices that we see in Mad Men brewing around the seams of Magic City. Makes me twitchy inside.
Twitchy discomfort often makes for good television.