Review of “Magic City”

“Magic City” is one of those dramatic TV series that really connects for you if you fit into any one of the many reasons that might attract you to that kind of show.

Created by Mitch Glazer who is also one of the principal producers it stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait and Jessica Marais, in the main roles. Produced for the Starz network “Magic City” originally ran from

the look, the feel of Magic City

the look, the feel of Magic City

March 30, 2012 and finished up two seasons on August 9, 2013. It was not renewed for a third season. Currently it can be viewed on Netflix.

If you have any connection to Jewish or American Jewish life, Cuban or Cuban American life, and have any interest at all in stories about organized crime in the free world, or just enjoy anything salacious, violence, sex, steamy romance, intrigue, suspense, then you should watch “Magic City.” In other words just about anyone would like this drama.

The show takes place in 1959 Miami, the Kennedy’s, the 59 Dodgers, Hula hoops, great big Cadillacs with shark fins in the back and Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights, all come together at The Miramar Playa, a fictitious but very authentic first class Hotel on the Miami strand.

The set production was next to perfect. The décor, the costumes were perfect for the time. As someone who was a very little boy in 1959 it took me back. The way men dressed with their tight pants and outer jac-shirts. Zippo lighters never seemed to be far away from a pack of cigarettes. And, of course, everyone

all you guys 60 and over, remember this look?

all you guys 60 and over, remember this look?

smoked. Doctors were starting to warn about the health effects of smoking but It wasn’t until 1966 when the Surgeon General became serious and placed warning labels on packs of cigarettes.

Jewish organized crime, hardly ever romanticized in favor of the Italians who were more demonstrative in 20th century Americana, plays a central role in this series as they live up to

Zippo lighters up until about 1967 or 8 every punk had a zippo lighter for his smokes.

Zippo lighters up until about 1967 or 8 every punk had a zippo lighter for his smokes.

every underworld stereotype, from degenerate sex to the worst kinds of human sadistic behavior. Apparently, they ran Miami during the post World War II years, probably led by Meyer Lansky although his name is never mentioned. Rather, James Caan, in a supporting role plays Sy Berman, the Lansky type character in the story.

Shamefully, there is a part of me that is proud of Jewish gangsterism. Probably no different than being proud of Jewish sports heroes, Benny Leonard, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, etc. Not sure why that is. Maybe because they broke the mold of the stereotype bookish Jew, physically weak, and not able to stand up for himself. Of course, those are stereotypes and do not reveal reality. But, Jewish gangsters seem to prove that it doesn’t. Maybe that is what I am proud of.

In the 1930s a group of  New York Jewish guys once broke up an American Nazi party meeting. They ran into the hall and just started beating every one up. Jews beating up Nazis, how cool is that? But then afterward they probably went out and tortured to death one of their street enemies, something none of us could ever sanction. So it’s a strange kind of kinship the rest of American Jews have with that element.

As a Jewish Zionist I can never forget what American Jewish crime did for the Jews in 1948. Because of an international ban on weapons imposed by the Truman administration, the proposed Jewish State in Palestine was left to its own devices to secure proper weapons to fight the coming war with the Arabs everyone knew was coming.

American Jewish crime was one of several very important sources that secured the kinds of weapons which enabled Israel’s fledgling armed forces to barely survive the first month of their War of Independence. It is quite possible that the Jews could have done it without that segment of American  Jewish society nevertheless the  contribution in history has always been appreciated by people like me.

One of my  favorite sayings attributed to Albert Schweitzer really applies to these types of situations. “You don’t have to be an angel to be a saint.”

But I do digress.

Mitch Glazer, the producer grew up in Miami Beach, in and around hotels during that time period, so his experiences of being told stories and listening to staff and family tell him lurid tales of crime and how crime don’t pay (for anything) became the basis for this series.

With character names, like Ben Diamond, Judi Silver and Belvan Jaffe, living the low life in Miami Beach, they were gangsters and bad people but they were part of the Jewish family just the same. Like my own mother and father most of that generation were born from immigrant parents so the Yiddish expressions are common, the cultural ties of common background, heritage, and history bound that community together.

The main cast inside the lobby of the Miramar Playa

The main cast inside the lobby of the Miramar Playa

It’s no different than the Italian or Irish or any other immigrant community in the American experience. These just happen to be Jews—gangster Jews. Criminal gangs have historically bonded over cultural similarities, and Jewish crime, whether in Miami, Chicago or L.A. did the same.  Make no mistake, these are bad people, they did bad things but they make for exciting television.

Along with the magnificent set direction, wardrobe and meticulous detail of the period, the show does take on a realism. You think you are looking at 1959. With that prop expertly devised all Glazer had to do was to tell his story.

The show also tells of a symbiotic closeness between the anti-Castro Cubans who took asylum in Miami after the revolution. Castro took over Cuba in 1959 and along with his hatchet man Che Guevara instituted a reign of terror in

Unknown group of Cuban exiles in Miami circa 1960

Unknown group of Cuban exiles in Miami circa 1960

which they jailed and executed Cuban nationals. Many innocent people, sometimes whole families were murdered just because they were rich and had some kind of connection to the Batista regime.

On all levels those relationships between Jews and Cubans seem to work in Magic City, love, war, honesty, fidelity, it all comes together for the two communities going through life on two similar but parallel life lines never crossing, never descending into tension.  Almost like there is an understanding on the oppressive nature withstood by both groups, to both groups. I’m not sure if Miami history was that smooth between Cubans and Jews, but even if it wasn’t, Glazer made it work for him and his story.

Unfortunately, for me, because I really liked it, the show was cancelled after two seasons. There is hope however. Netflix, has on occasion bought the rights to certain series that were left cliff hanging and consequently many disappointed fans, and continued the series. For example, after purchasing the rights to the three seasons of “The Killing” from AMC, Netflix produced a season four to tie up all the loose ends. Not ideal but at least it was something. They produced 15 episodes of “Arrested Development” six years after Fox cancelled it, giving the loyal fans of the show something more that was perceived by that time to be lost.

But, the point is that they could conceivably continue the series if they felt they could get enough of an audience. Whether the show has that or not I don’t know.

But, at least we have those two seasons. If you fit into one of the categories I explained at the beginning you will probably like “Magic City.”

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