Review: Mob City

Mob CityMob stories can be tricky. On one hand, America’s gangster figures are fascinating characters… who are terrible murderers! Sorry. Sometimes I forget to add that.

On the other hand, people who read into these shows for real history lessons tend to find a mixed bag of nonsense about real figures.

Mob City is the new retread of something we’ve seen many times at this point. I keep watching too, because I’m a sucker for this period and these subjects. This time we’re seeing 40’s gangster Mickey Cohen’s empire. Not that this is particularly new territory; we’ve seen him previously in the terrible 2013 film Gangster Squad, as well as the excellent films L.A. Confidential and Bugsy, and the video Game L.A. Noire, which shares the name of Mob City’s source material, the 2009 book L.A. Noir by John Buntin.

Mob City has strong pedigree, created by Frank Darabont, the semi-legendary director of The Shawshank Redemption,not to mention lesser Stephen King adaptations like The Mist and The Green Mile. The cast is anchored by Jon Bernthal, who recently played “Shane,” the most interesting character on The Walking Dead which was also developed by Darabont. It also features Jeffrey DeMunn, who played “Dale,” maybe the most likable character on The Walking Dead.

They were both killed on that show, though only one of them returned as a zombie.

They return here as cops going after Cohen, and his real life associate Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (played authentically by Ed Burns) and fictional associate Sid Rothman (played by veteran TV heavy Robert Knepper).

Characters like Rothman, no doubt an amalgam of Arnold Rothstein, Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano and Frank Costello, are common in shows like this. A short cut to the complex real life web of criminal relationships that would make for a dense and sometimes less action packed mob epic (anyone… hello?). Instead we get Boardwalk Empire in the 40s.

Boardwalk Empire is one of TV’s best shows, and features a gorgeous production filled with real life characters like Meyer Lansky, Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. It also re-imagines relatively unexciting political boss Enoch Johnson, as ass-kicking, mistress-banging, crooked-toothed gangster Enoch “Nucky” Thompson.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great show, but it basically chooses a figure from that era that nobody else ever made a movie about, mostly because he’s not such a sexy figure. And made him incredibly badass. Mob City takes 3 characters that would take a lot of time to explain the stories of and combines them in to simple blood thirsty hit man Sid Rothman.

This can clearly be a hit or miss technique that misses more than it hits with Mob City. The premier double episode of a short 6 episode season featured a great guest turn by the excellent Simon Pegg as tragic standup comic Hecky Nash, and set up the primary characters we’ll be following.

It certainly wasn’t bad. And I’ll give it another shot to see where it goes from here. But it certainly wasn’t anything exceptional, and if you want historically flawed mobster action, Boardwalk Empire still has the market cornered.

Mob City runs two episodes per night on Wednesdays through December 18th on TNT and is available on demand.

by Ygal Kaufman