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Mob City - Episodes 1.01 & 1.02 - A Guy Walks Into a Bar - Review

This holiday month, TNT is serving up some noir and gangsters to enjoy with your eggnog. The 6-hour, 3-week mini-series Mob City premiered Wednesday evening with its first two-hour installment, with flashy 1940s period settings, blues music, mob hits, and an excellent cast.

The series was created by Frank Darabont, a name The Walking Dead fans will recognize as the creator of the hit series who was fired amongst a lot of controversy at the start of season 2. Darabont reunites with a few killed-off cast members from the zombie series, namely Jon Bernthal (Shane), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), and Andrew Rothenberg (Jim). TWD fans will get a kick of seeing Bernthal and DeMunn working together under very different conditions - on a police sting to catch some mobsters - seeing as Shane and Dale had a very complicated relationship on TWD.

The series has thus far centered on L.A. Police Detective Joe Teague (Bernthal), a man who describes himself as neither a “white hat,” nor “black hat,” referencing characters in Western movies who are out to shape the world in their own image, but rather a “gray hat.” Like the character Bernthal played on TWD, we learn that Teague's world is in fact very gray, with a twist that comes at the conclusion of the first hour of the series. He’s far from a boy scout, but he has his own rules and follows his own code. Just how successful he is in surviving under that code in a world of notorious criminals including “Bugsy” Siegel, Sid Rothman, and Mickey Cohen, remains to be seen.

The standout scenes for me so far have been Teague’s interactions at a smokey and sultry blues bar with old friend and former Marines brother-in-arms Ned Stax (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes). While Teague is now a cop, Stax works for Siegel. The two share a history and bond, and  knowledge of each other’s secrets.  Their bond has survived their transition from the WWII battlefields to their new roles on the streets of Los Angeles.

While there are standout moments and scenes, to be honest my initial impression was that the series seemed in its first two hours to have poor pacing and to be a little all over the place. There were a lot of characters to meet, occasional flashbacks to the ‘20s, and not really a coherent connection between them all. The first hour culminates with an interesting twist, but then reverts back to set-up for a significant chunk of the second hour.

I think my impression may have been largely due to having watched this in a two-hour block. The story was obviously structured to be seen as separate one-hour episodes rather than as a two-hour movie, so if you have yet to watch this series, I recommend splitting up the first two hours. Another criticism is that the story didn’t have a strong hook that pulled me in. Right now, I’m curious to see more, and think this might lead to some great TV entertainment, but to be honest, I’m not really sure what the story is yet.

I read a review elsewhere by a critic who had seen more of the series, and acknowledged that parts of the first two hours were slow, but said if you can get through that, the rest is worth it. So I’ll be back to watch more. Also, the promos for next week look great!

If you’ve watched it, or if you haven’t but just want to talk about it anyway, please let me know what you think in the comments.