Frank Darabont, whose last stab at television brought forth
Based loosely on John Buntin's 2009 "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City," it covers some of the same territory as did this year's big-screen
Its six episodes will air over three weeks, two by two, making this look either like a Television Event, or as if the show is being hustled quickly out of the way. But it's a sensible approach: It keeps the whole series within the year, tightly packed and out of the way of the holidays.
Somewhat to my surprise, I like it. I'm no particular fan of "The Walking Dead" or Darabont's films of
For all its historical referents, it's a fanciful work, based not in the world but in motion pictures. Did a real person ever say, "I always said you had brains, kid" who wasn't quoting something he'd heard in a movie? David Tattersall (who photographed the pilot for "The Walking Dead") borrows the shadowy look of old film noir and adds color.
Composer-trumpeter Mark Isham washes the soundtrack with period atmosphere. There is cigarette smoke; there is neon. There are backlot city streets, made wet for reflective effect, like countless backlot streets before them.
"White hats and black hats, they do exist," says central character Det. Joe Teague (
The black hats here are the oddly comical Cohen (Jeremy Luke, better cast than
Darabont doesn't overly romanticize his gangsters — that he has made the series in the first place, of course, is a romantic gesture in itself, but he makes them more businesslike than demonic. A "nosh" here and a "mazel tov" there provide ethnic context.
The show manages to stay on the right side of cornball, thanks to good actors and Darabont's liking for long scenes that give them room to relax, to create relationships that define character and go on long enough for the period lingo to sound, if not natural, at least natural to the stylized surroundings. After a needless and improbable prelude set in Prohibition New York, which seems to have been added merely to fire off some machine guns, the story does much of its business by way of conversation.
Physiognomy speaks here. Bernthal has the right, worked-over look for the role of an honest cop whose code is nevertheless his own. He is not as pretty, certainly, as
Also profitably around: Pihla Viitala as Anya, who tends bar at the Central Avenue club where off-the-books business takes place, and who seems to have listened to recordings of Lena Horne and Peggy Lee in creating her character's voice. (Bizarrely, the bar is called Bunny's Jungle Club, which avoids a racist epithet only by the order of its words.) Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn brings offhand gravitas as the chief of the LAPD's mob squad.
And there is The Woman, absurdly named Jasmine Fontaine and played, perhaps not by accident, with the contained impudence of a young Lauren Bacall by
It is left to guest star
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)