Mob City: A Man Walks Into a Bar, review

Mob City looks through old Los Angeles darkly.

I don’t know whether Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Sid Rothman played the fiddle. Maybe their mothers sent them for violin lessons, but I can’t really picture it. I read a lot of gangster history and although I can’t guarantee it, I don’t think the three mobsters started as a string trio. Mob City opens in a flashback to 1925 New York where bootlegging is already in full swing. Hijacking truckloads of booze as the theaters let out is a fun Friday night. Meyer and Bugsy are already making history. Sid is on his way to a lifetime of trouble. The streets are dark and wet.

Flash forward to 1947 and you’re in Los Angeles. The streets are dark and wet there too. Prohibition is long gone but there is always room for rackets. LA is pretty much an open city and up for grabs. Gangsters from New York have come in and scooped up the unions and most of the dope trade. The mobsters are pretty well-known around town and pal around the Tinseltown luminaries. The cops are no geraniums. There’s an outfit that’s out to clean up the streets, but let’s face it, cops who are on the take are cops you can reason with. Those cops earn their graft, they know how to work the system and everybody gets off clean who doesn’t have to get dirty. Hardass peace officers who take the word of law like the word of god on high or below, there’s just no talking to them. Wrong is wrong and black is usually black and that has traditionally been wrong when you’re wearing blue. But they’re open minded. Everyone is a criminal to them. It’s just a matter of finding out what laws are being broken. Put them in the same room as the cops getting greased and you got some serious suspense on tap.

Jon Bernthal is Joe Teague, LA homicide division. It looks like he’s got his hand out, long enough to take on some extracurricular OT off the books, but there’s something sneaky about this former jarhead. You can trust a cop who’s pulling on the side.  Teague pulls from both sides. So, a man walks into a bar and pulls out his card. He’s a stand-up comic who’s also a standup guy. At least he has been. His name is Hecky Nash (Simon Pegg) and when he was in short pants he was part of a gang of kids who ran with Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke). Hecky ran out on a movie theater heist that Cohen planned when they were kids in that gang. Cohen never forgot. Planned, as Hecky explains it, is in the eye of the beholder. Basically the kids walked up to a movie house and Mickey started whacking the shit out of it, scaring the teller until she handed over the cash. Mickey is now a big shot in Los Angeles.

Hecky’s got an extortion scam going, seems he’s got these pictures. But Hecky’s not going after Mickey Cohen. No, Hecky’s going after a bigger fish, former street violinist, Benjamin Siegel (Edward Burns). Someone, probably George Raft, told Benny to make himself at home in Los Angeles and he decided the house needed cleaning. He was just figuring out how to clean it out. While we’re talking about clean, let’s talk about the top cop, Mr. Clean, the boy scout William H. Parker (Neal McDonough) who’s got a bug up his ass about crime and has a particular hard-on for Mickey Cohen. Really, there’s just no talking to this guy. That’s how Teague handles it, he really doesn’t talk to any of the new cops he’s assigned to. And when he does, it’s usually out of the side of his mouth. But he doesn’t stutter.

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Teague was brought in to the team by Hal Morrison, who Teague confessed to right after he got popped for taking action from Hecky. It was good to see Bernthal and Jeffrey DeMunn back at it. They were at odds on Walking Dead and I’m sure they’ll be headed into similar head butts on Mob City. Jeffrey DeMunn has his own mob movie bona fides. He played Houdini in Ragtime. It looks like Simon Pegg isn’t really enjoying his retro turn as the angry clown who’s ditching the circus.

If you ever watch a pilot years after you’ve been watching a series, you’ll notice things you never noticed the first time around. Characters seem a little stiff in retrospect, because the actors are still filling their suits. You don’t notice it at the time when you’re first watching it, because you’re growing into the story too. You’re a little stiff. I think Milo Ventimiglio will be wearing a different face as the series progresses. The same shoes, but a different face. His fixer character will adjust as the actor settles in. He seems a little young right now to have been Jon Bernthal’s ditch mate in World War II. Except when he acknowledges that Teague always knew he was a smart guy. Years melted away and it aged him.The music is a character here too, vintage crooning reimagined as bluesy barrelhouse and raspy saxes dueting in slow burns.

I fully believe that Mob City is going to get picked up past the six episodes TNT is running. They got a push on TMC. I was actually watching Roaring Twenties while writing this and want to scream at Edward Burns, who can’t think of another Cagney-Bogart movie.  Okay, they only made three together and Angels With Dirty Faces is a personal favorite, but the guy who’s playing George Raft’s good buddy shouldn’t have to flip a coin.


Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars

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3.5 out of 5