Attempts to replicate the stylish retro-drama success of AMC's Mad Men have been hit and miss, resulting in a dull rip-off (NBC's The Playboy Club), a marginally-better soap opera (ABC's Pan Am), and one riveting exception (BBC's The Hour). Starz is the latest network to play this card, premiering its ambitious new retro drama Magic City over the weekend. Described by LA Weekly as "Mad Men + plus more sex + a hint of The Sopranos," the series is set at a haute Miami Beach hotel in 1959, and centers on dashing hotelier Ike Evans (Grey Anatomy's Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he attempts to keep his business afloat in the face of mob entanglements, union strikes, and family strife. Starz' previous attempts at highbrow cable drama, Boss and Spartacus, produced mixed results. Does Magic City deserve to be compared to Mad Men?
Yep. And then some: At first glance, Magic City seems like another Mad Men rip-off that's destined to fall far short, says Ali Trachta at LA Weekly. But it doesn't for a number of reasons. One is this "undeniably sexy and tantalizing" show's commitment to frank eroticism — it takes less than 30 seconds for the first bare butt to appear. But the storyline is strong, too, thanks to intriguing Sopranos-like mob subplots and agreeably complicated familial relations. All in all, "one of the stronger pilots we've seen in a while."
"Magic City on Starz = Mad Men + more sex + a hint of The Sopranos"
It doesn't come close: Magic City shows up "embarrassingly late to a retro brat-pack party" inspired by Mad Men, says Hank Steuver at The Washington Post. Unlike AMC's drama, the show is all style and sex with no substance, giving off the same "desperate cigarette stench" as fellow doomed party crashers The Playboy Club and Pan Am. The show clearly wants to join the ranks of cable's elite productions, but while the latter are often criticized as "too densely layered and hard to 'get into,'" the simple-minded Magic City "suffers from endless predictability and a lack of creative storytelling." Starz clearly doesn't agree: It's already ordered a second season of the series.
"Magic City: An express checkout from Starz's retro hotel"
But it has potential: Magic City tastes like someone took parts of Mad Men and The Sopranos, "dropped both into a mojito and left it on a lounge chair in the Miami Beach sun," says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. It follows the same slow-burning formula as those shows — not much happens in each episode — but "it's not as fully realized from the get-go." Still, there's promise: "The writing is strong, the acting stronger and the amount of distracting nudity the strongest." Only time will reveal whether that promise is fulfilled.
"Magic City: TV review"