Because we have seen so many takes on the go-go '80s Wall Street scene, from The Bonfire of the Vanities to Boiler Room to The Wolf of Wall Street, it's tempting to think we've seen every conceivable version of what happens in that bloodthirsty Serengeti of global commerce. Not so.
Yes, there really was a stock market crash on Oct. 19, 1987 as Showtime's marketing team reports in promoting this eccentric and screwy show, and yes, it's true that no one still really knows what caused it. But while Black Monday teases that this series will explain how it happened, it can't possibly, because Maurice Monroe (Don Cheadle) and his partner Dawn Darcy (Regina Hall) are improbable and outrageously unfathomable as people who could've been traders at the time. (That's not just because of their skin color of course; you'd never know it from pop culture depictions, but African-Americans have long worked and traded on Wall Street, with the first black securities firm opening in 1960, and a black man named Garland Wood named general partner of Goldman Sachs in 1986.)
But Black Monday doesn't just swap out white guys for Don Cheadle and Regina Hall. Instead Black Monday takes conventional portrayals of Wall Street out for many, many drinks, pumps them full of cocaine and then shoots off into the night for a sloppy, insanely wild ride that doesn't always make sense. But nonsensical rides can be the best kind, and Black Monday proves that. It's a fun show.
Make no mistake: Black Monday is crass and juvenile, choked with cliched references to the period. There's definitely some "Look at that big ass cell phone! Someone said clear Pepsi, the Challenger and there's lots of cocaine!" non-stop, and in the three episodes screened for critics, the plot wobbles as freely as breakdancing cardboard. The tone is hard to pin down too, as Maurice, or, Mo as we come to know him, stays locked in a disorienting state of panicked braggadocio while his team of traders cracks one cheap zinger after another.
But sit with Black Monday a while and the jokes become musical: the sophomoric humor, the groan-worthy '80s references and the dick jokes (including an actual uncut dick flop on another guy's shoulder while he's trying to work) are the joke. Give them time, and Black Monday's deliberately awful dated dad jokes wear you down and make you laugh out loud.
From Happy Endings writer David Caspe and My Best Friend's Girl scribe Jordan Cahan, Black Monday opens with a mysterious disaster — an unknown body falling from the sky and crashing onto Mo's Limbo (aka Lamborghini limo). Framing a series around a death/murder mystery rarely holds up, but even though the pilot calls back to that death at the end of the episode, that riddle's payoff is ultimately of little consequence. Black Monday's best asset is its ridiculous workplace atmosphere. That's where Mo's ragtag group of traders Wayne (Horatio Sanz), Keith (Paul Scheer), Yassir (Yassir Lester) and Dawn (Hall) hold court, cracking inanely stupid jokes — some so slick and well-crafted they can fly over your head on the first watch. Ironically, Black Monday wasn't necessarily crafted specifically for a black lead but rather to consider what would happen if the most unlikely group of people worked on Wall Street, and this group, led by a flashy black man who was orphaned on the steps of a Church's Chicken, is indeed unusual. They're like the Bad News Bears of the trading world, and when Mo adopts the wannabe yuppie Blair Pfaff (Andrew Rannells) into his tribe, everyone's lives begin to change in ways no one could have anticipated.
Consistency is not Black Monday's strong suit; dramatic moments, particularly around Mo's self-loathing and his lingering feelings for whatever him and Dawn used to have, kill the buzz in spots. But it is very funny, provided you have an affinity for goofball comedy and find low-hanging fruit delicious. Hall is predictably fantastic (when isn't she?) in her purely comedic moments and during the times she makes the frustrations of being a black woman in a white man's cage relatable and exhausting rather than just contrived rage. Rannells is also great at making Blair a believably innocent dupe, and his money-obsessed girlfriend Tiff Georgina, (the underrated Casey Wilson) brings her special brand of crazy to the party, too. Nothing about Black Monday seems familiar, part of the reason it's challenging to "get" right away. But, ups and downs aside, Black Monday's meta, madcap silliness works as a parody of the genre and a fresh take on an old story. It's a good investment.
Black Monday premieres Sunday Jan. 2o at 10/9c on Showtime. The entire pilot is available on YouTube in a special sneak preview for all.