Six episodes were provided for review prior to broadcast.
For nearly every character in Get Shorty, doom takes the form of a past decision: one filmmaker is still haunted by the failure of his dream project, and a mobster, who eventually becomes that man’s partner, is unable to start a new life because he can’t cut his criminal ties. Both of these experiences provide ample support to the show’s sentiment, but honestly, they’re nothing new. How is it possible that a show I feel like I’ve seen before can still be so riveting?
Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd) is the mobster. A big Irish guy working as the muscle for a small Nevadan syndicate, he looks like he should belong in the “all brawn, no brain” category – those who underestimate him put him there. But as we can tell from the way he watches movies with his daughter, or talks about life and Rachel Ray while burying a body, he’s thoughtful.
He has ideas and hopes, the majority of which revolve around keeping his family intact. The problem with that is his wife Katie (Lucy Walters) doesn’t like the fact that her husband kills people for a living. So Miles wants out…except leaving the mob is not as easy as handing in your resignation.
The show is similar to Fargo in its relaxed depiction of the crime life; in fact, a large part of its best humor lies in how difficult it is to take this family seriously – this is surely no Corleone operation. Run just outside of Las Vegas, this organization is headed by the tantalizing Amara (Lidia Porto) and her power-hungry nephew, Yago (Goya Robles). We ask ourselves how powerful can these two really be, though? They’re threatening in that they have guns and men that know how to use them, but really, we know there are much bigger ventures around. At the start of the show, they don’t own much more than a dirty casino – one that can’t be that popular with Sin City just around the corner – but they’re looking to expand.
An opportunity presents itself to Amara and Miles when he and his associate Louis (Sean Bridgers) are sent to L.A. to squeeze some money out of an aspiring writer. He doesn’t have it, but claims to have written the next great Hollywood movie – a romantic period piece entitled “The Admiral’s Mistress.” Next thing we know, the creator is killed and the blood-soaked screenplay is left in Miles’ hand, laying the foundation for a plan.
The flirtatious and demanding boss is the revision’s best add-on. Because Amara is middle aged, the idea of profiting from a night club glittered by strobe lights doesn’t interest her. She agrees to fund the movie, with one mandate: “I like John Stamos.” Aside from angering Yago, this gives Miles the chance to start a new chapter in Hollywood as a producer, where Katie and his beloved daughter Emma (Carolyn Dodd) can once again be a part of his life.
But Miles doesn’t know the first thing about making movies; enter Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano), a washed up producer of cheap horror films on the brink of irrelevancy. Selling the majority of his work to foreign markets, his primary goal is to break even, an objective that agrees with Miles’ scheme. The two connect because of their experience and inexperience in each other’s worlds. Rick acts as a guide for Miles through the riptides of the entertainment business, and Miles is there to make sure Rick doesn’t end up sleeping with the fishes.
This is not to say that Miles becomes a seamless Hollywood producer. No, he and Louis pack a punch in their new hometown, blackmailing executives and bullying writers to make the filmmaking process easier. O’Dowd and Bridgers have a great rapport, and though neither of their characters are able to stray too far from their violent roots, the two friends buy a little too much into their adopted roles, leading to some “creative differences.” For example, Miles loses sight of his criminal nature when he looks down on Louis for beating up some guy, and then heads across town to do the same thing to someone else. Then later on, Louis starts to think that he’s the real writer, wanting to be treated the way a real writer would – financial compensation included.
The production is not smooth, to say the least. The director gets himself arrested, the star is a drug addict, and Amara’s ignorance and ego stand in the way of any real progress. Of course, “The Admiral’s Mistress” faces some of the other unavoidable problems anything run by mobsters would face.
Because of these misfortunes, the show’s comicality is shadowed by apprehension for Miles’ situation. We like him; we want him to win. He can dig himself out of the hole he’s been thrown into. Although Amara’s mob is not as mighty as other organizations we’ve become used to seeing on TV, they certainly have the power to stop him, especially with the erratic Yago, whose gun is already pointed at the “producer.”
The show is based on the Elmore Leonard novel which also spawned the 1995 Barry Sonnenfield motion picture starring John Travolta and Gene Hackman. Joining the aforementioned Fargo, this is yet another TV series that has a film predecessor, a premise which has recently gained popularity in the industry.
Of course, shows like these run the risk of being compared to their antecedents. Luckily, Get Shorty, with a vast array of new characters and motivations, is perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet, working at a much slower pace than that of the 100-minute film. Where Travolta would simply weasel out of danger, Miles gets stuck in jams plenty of times. Not just jams, like a scheduling mishap or an important interview where he’s got to wing it, but life-threatening jams – and with an hour-long runtime, these writers allow their characters to work out of their dire dilemmas with a greater sense of realism.
It was pointed out earlier how this new show feels like something the audience has already seen – much of that can be attributed to the two leads: O’Dowd is his usual sardonic self, and Romano, with a repertoire of offbeat pictures, an incoherent father in the retirement village, and a son in rehab, can add this role to his resume of bumbling losers we love to pity. However, Romano is perfectly cast precisely because this is the character he knows how to play.
With a gritty, energetic, and page-turning tale to work with, Miles is a great host for the series’ best moments. The desert, which is as empty as the town of Albuquerque in Breaking Bad (where this was also shot), loses its spunk once the Irishman goes to L.A., and leaves Yago and his dimwitted compadre (Sasha Feldman) to run things. The show spends a little too much time on these two, whose ugly natures go hand-in-hand with their young “gangsta” appearances. Their personalities brutality clash with Miles’ ambition, and even Amara’s wickedness.
Get Shorty mocks Hollywood as a so-called “city of dreams.” Wannabe writers swarm all the coffee shops, and it seems like everybody who lives there is an actor, respectively. Even Rick, a man with a studio job, is struggling. And while this is undeniably what the real Los Angeles is like, Get Shorty flings these two uneducated buffoons into the deep end, into a world they have no business being in, and they thrive. Perhaps these jobs aren’t so different? Maybe? But it certainly makes you wonder if the some of the business’ head honchos are more like the Kray Brothers than the Warner Brothers.
A fun, funny and sexy adventure, Get Shorty, despite renewing some clichéd concepts, succeeds in being irrefutably fresh.