It is dawn on Dec. 31, 1958, and Ike Evans has a loving young wife, a former showgirl, in bed next to him, Frank Sinatra sleeping in the Presidential Suite of the glamorous Miami Beach hotel he owns and … big problems.
A union strike, mobster troubles and news of Castro's march toward Havana are threatening Ike's precarious financial hold on the hotel, and he needs to get things fixed by the time Sinatra goes on for that night's New Year's Eveperformance, a make-or-break event for the Miramar Playa hotel.
That is the setup laid out in Friday night's premiere episode of the Starz network's filmed-in-Miami drama "Magic City," a deliciously sexy and sumptuous paean to an era of fashionable smokes and booze, menacing political intrigue and simmering racial inequity.
The series was created by writer-director Mitch Glazer ("Scrooged," "The Recruit"), who grew up in late '50s Miami Beach with a father who designed the lighting for hotels such as the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc. So it is not surprising that "Magic City" radiates with a rich visual authenticity, from the hotel lobby and tail-finned cars down to the cigarette lighters and the lingerie.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan,familiar to legions of "Grey's Anatomy" fans for his supporting role as Denny, brings a convincing masculine swagger and paternal tenderness to Ike as he maneuvers through a challenging day at the Miramar Playa.
The clock is ticking, the union pickets in front of the hotel are national news, and he has "a warehouse full of booze sitting in Fort Lauderdale and no way to get it in here," as Ike's ne'er-do-well son Stevie reminds him. When the Kennedys cancel and Sinatra's people let him know the singer won't take the stage with even one empty seat, Ike turns to mobster Ben "the Butcher" Diamond (an intimidating Danny Huston, son of John), who secretly owns half the hotel, but wants more.
Dominoes fall in ways that, of course, will have consequences far into the future.
Ike's promiscuous son Stevie (Steven Strait) heads to a black hotel in Overtown in search of some muscle to use against the pickets, and crosses paths with "the wrong woman" (a sultry Jessica Marais), who turns out to be Ben Diamond's new wife. They fall in lust as "Tenderly" is sung by the hotel's singer, Ella Fitzgerald (Patti Austin).
Level-headed Danny (Christian Cooke), Ike's other son, is wooing one of the housekeepers (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, daughter of actor Andy Garcia), whose father is the Miramar Playa general manager, Victor (Yul Vazquez). As Castro advances, Victor is responsible for keeping the Cuban kitchen staff away from news on the radio, while he worries about the well-being of his wife, who is still on the island.
Olga Kurylenko brings a touching resolve to Vera, Ike's second wife, as she tries to build a relationship with his sons and young daughter. Veteran character actor Alex Rocco plays Ike's father, Arthur, who seems to know his way around the Jewish gangsters that run Miami Beach and other mob forces that are poised to move in as Cuban casinos are threatened.
"Magic City" is not shy about nudity and sex, and makes precise use of fashion, design and music to give this era a stylish glow, inviting facile comparisons to shows such as AMC's "Mad Men." But with the debut episode of "Magic City," Glazer gives every indication that his show is also ready to steer clear of hagiography and pursue complicated relationships between Miami and Havana, between black and white and Hispanic, between crime and punishment. Which will make it very contemporary, indeed.
Stars: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Christian Cooke, Danny Huston, Jessica Marais, Dominik Garcia-Lorido
Airs: 10 p.m. Friday on StarzCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun