A deluxe if derivative wallow in crime awaits viewers of TNT's Mob City (Wednesday, 9/8c) a six-hour primer in film noir attitude from The Walking Dead's Frank Darabont that's as sleek as the brilliantine in "fixer" Milo Ventimiglia's impeccably styled hair. Saturated in neon hues and evocative shadows, this limited-run series (airing in two-hour blocks over three Wednesdays) is gorgeous to behold even when it lays on the noir trappings awfully thick.
"I live in a world of gray hats," drones the voice-over narration of morally ambiguous Marine-turned-detective protoganist Joe Teague (Dead alum Jon Bernthal) as we're introduced to a cast of real-life gangsters (Ed Burns as a brash Bugsy Siegel) and heroes (Neal McDonough as "boy scout" police chief William H. Parker) amid a fictional ensemble in 1940s L.A. It's a classically glamorous backdrop for corruption, double-dealings and, naturally, murder — including a whacking in an Italian restaurant where the victim's face actually lands in the spaghetti.
What Mob City may lack in originality it compensates for in atmosphere and sharp characterizations: Robert Knepper is especially in his element as a terrifying hit man described as "a sociopath who figured out how to make that a job description," and Alexa Davalos glows as an archetypal femme fatale involved with a desperate low-life comic (Simon Pegg, who steals the opening night in a memorable guest role). Some nifty twists along the way keep us off balance regarding who's good or bad and why. And at the very least, it's more fun than Boardwalk Empire has been for a long while.
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CURTAINS: Some comebacks feel more like throwbacks — which is what somebody should have done to the scripts for TV Land's Kirstie (10/9c), a cringingly cornball vehicle for the former Cheers headliner and Dancing With the Stars fan favorite. In TV Land tradition, the show surrounds her with other iconic sitcom veterans who should have known better. Oblivious to the hubristic perils of first-name-only show titles — see: Sean Saves the World, or more to the point, Kristin (as in Chenoweth) — Kirstie imagines its star as a particularly mothballed cliché: an ego-driven, boozy and spoiled Broadway diva named Madison "Maddie" Banks. She's indulged by an entourage including Seinfeld's Michael Richards, exercising his spastic slapstick shtick as Maddie's chauffeur Frank, and fellow Cheers alum Rhea Perlman as wisecracking personal assistant Thelma — an homage, perhaps, to the great Thelma Ritter, who performed the same function more convincingly for Bette Davis in All About Eve.
Sadly, Kirstie is all about cheese, including the moldy hook of the show's gimmicky premise: the sudden arrival of Maddie's grown son Arlo (colorless Eric Petersen), whom she gave away for adoption as a baby so as not to hinder her then-fledgling career. Most of the early episodes hinge on Arlo shaming Maddie for her selfish choice, and Maddie overcompensating by haplessly trying to buy this benign dullard's love or forcing him into her over-the-top Auntie Mame lifestyle.
At least the upcoming Christmas episode (Dec. 18) is spiced by the astringent guest performance of Cloris Leachman as Maddie's disapproving mother, who is understandably chagrined when the whole gang decides to embrace one of Arlo's family holiday traditions by donning ridiculous polka-dotted footed pajamas with deer antler headpieces. "There's a really funny story behind it," grins Arlo. "Yeah, I'll take your word for it," Granny snarks. And suddenly I'm pining to run away with Leachman — maybe back to Raising Hope, a superior family comedy where the humor doesn't feel canned in a rusty time capsule.
NO FLASH IN THE PAN: Grant Gustin, formerly known as an evil Warbler on Glee, makes a much more appealing first impression on The CW's best non-Nikita series, Arrow (8/7c), as earnest Barry Allen, a visiting CSI from Central City, who's so boyish in his eager demeanor and funky sneakers that Oliver Queen's (Stephen Amell) first reaction upon his arrival is to quip, "Do your parents know that you're here?" Comics fans know that this science-minded boy wonder, who's obsessed with the urban legend of the green-cloaked "Vigilante," will eventually become the Flash — and his two-part introduction (continuing next Wednesday) is the beginning of a build-up to a possible CW Flash series of his own.
One person who'd almost certainly watch such a show is Oliver's fetching sidekick Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), who's instantly smitten by the nerdish charmer, despite his chattering curiosity about the hooded avenger: "I think that he has partners," Barry gushingly theorizes, to which Felicity has no comment. Ultimately, of course, he'll prove essential in the case of the week, which involves super-strength burglars (followers of the nefarious Brother Blood) who are hopped up on a chemical that may be related to what was in the deserted Japanese sub back on The Island. Speaking of which, Felicity gets off one of the best lines of the TV week when she interrupts one of Oliver's flashback reveries by musing, "Why couldn't you have been marooned on Aruba?"
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: HBO already boasts one of TV's best sports-documentary series in Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel and hopes to add to that reputation with the new series State of Play (9/8c), produced by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, On Freddie Roach), who'll moderate a panel discussion following each film exploring that week's topic. First up: "Trophy Kids," which looks at parents' obsession with their kids' scholastic athletic achievements. ... In the yuletide mood yet? NBC's annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center special (8/7c), which spotlights the lighting of this year's massive true, features Kelly Clarkson — who gets her own NBC holiday special next week, pegged to her new holiday CD — and Tony winner Audra McDonald, whose busy week includes performing Thursday night as the Mother Abbess in NBC's ambitious live production of The Sound of Music. ... Syfy's new series Killer Contact (10/9c) introduces yet another team of paranormal investigators — where do they find them, the Spectral Yellow Pages? — to be sent around the world using their occult techniques to smoke out legendary villains (in this week's episode, Jack the Ripper) in case they're still haunting the scene of their past crimes.
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