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'Magic City': It Looks Great, But Isn't
April 6, 2012  | By David Bianculli

The new Starz series Magic City, premiering Friday night at 10 ET, stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the owner of a flashy Miami Beach hotel in 1959 -- hot enough to have Frank Sinatra as a headliner, yet cool enough to want to avoid ties with the local mob. I grew up in South Florida in the 1960s, so I can say with assurance they got the look just right.

With equal assurance, however, I can say they got everything else just wrong...

The casting of Morgan as hotel owner Ike Evans is the best move the show makes -- although, even there, he projects an air that, like the perfumed and intentionally arctic air circulating through his Miramar Playa Hotel, is way too cool.

Most other members of the cast, though, are like the set design and the scenery. They're great to look at, but that's about it. Series creator Mitch Glazer has done a wonderful job making Magic City look like an evocative period drama -- but I've seen Mad Men, I love Mad Men -- and Magic City, you're no Mad Men.

What it is, basically, is a nice try. And even when it gets some details right, it misses others -- or what to make of them.

For example, one of the now-demolished former landmarks recreated in Magic City is Wolfie's, a popular coffee shop and deli that had branches in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It was rumored to be a popular hangout for local Mafia types -- but definitely, it had enough appeal to be an occasional remote location from which a young local Miami radio host would do a live show, interviewing patrons as they ate and chatted.

That host was Larry King -- and Miami, and Wolfie's, was where he started.


I remember Wolfie's. Occasionally, my dad would take me to the Lauderdale Wolfie's on weekends for ham and eggs -- before we found, and switched to, the still-existing, still-cozy Egg & You. The artwork on the Wolfie's menu was strange enough, but that was nothing compared to the paper placemats, which included all sorts of joke phrases supposedly taken straight from the "Pennsylvania Dutch."

Why a South Florida Jewish deli was delighting in, and reproducing, etymology from another state and culture, I have no idea. But I ate enough eggs at Wolfie's, and read those placemats enough times, to be able to quote, with assured accuracy, some of the joke lines that were accompanied by illustrations, poking fun at the fractured speech patterns of this particular rural subculture:

"Throw the cow over the fence some hay." That was one.

"Throw mama down the stairs the laundry." That was another.

I'm not expecting Magic City to care about the placemats, necessarily. But putting Larry King in there would have been nice.

Similarly, the bar with the mermaids behind the glass (seen at the top of this column) -- that's an architectural gimmick that was used by many hotels and bars at the time. But it's not used to good effect, either. Just noticed, and photographed, and kept in the background.


By the way: a real-life modern example of that still exists in Fort Lauderdale, in what used to be the Yankee Clipper hotel bar. It's now the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel, but the watering hole retains its old name -- the Wreck Bar (at right) -- and "mermaids" still swim in the hotel pool on certain nights, as bar patrons watch through "portholes" to catch the aquatic action.

But I digress. I wanted to like Magic City, I really did. But by the time one of the characters asks another if he knows the story of the frog and the scorpion -- and then tells it, down to its "It's in my nature" tail-stinging punchline -- I had given up hoping the show's scripts would match its images.

They don't.

Magic City, sorry to say, is like a postcard.

Very pretty to look at, but about as thin as it gets.

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