If you were ever wondering where The Walking Dead folks go after they've killed their last zombie, apparently the answer is Los Angeles in 1947. After his dismissal from AMC's undead powerhouse, Frank Darabont took on the task of adapting John Buntin's L.A. Noir, a non-fiction account of the battle between cops and mobsters in midcentury Los Angeles. With the help of some former Walking Dead actors and the addition of some fictional characters, Mob City tries to bring film noir to the small screen.
Former Marine Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal) now serves as a detective in the LAPD, but an offer for a side job puts him at the center of a heated battle between a corrupt police department struggling for redemption and mob heavyweights like Bugsy Siegel (Edward Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke). The job appears simple. Down-on-his-luck comedian Hecky Nash (Simon Pegg), a childhood friend of Cohen's, has something of value to Siegel and he's blackmailing the big boss for enough money to ride him and his girlfriend Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos) out of the City of Angels. Teague's job: show up, look tough and wear his badge prominently so that Siegel's men will be less inclined to shoot Nash. Of course, things are never that simple and secrets from Joe's past tangle with Hecky's present, leading to a messy future for both of them.
Filled with scenes of characters speaking in hushed tones over long cigarette drags in dimly lit rooms, Mob City has the film-noir style down pat. Davalos has mastered the sultry drawl of the femme fatale beautifully and Bernthal's hard-boiled narrative voice sets the perfect tone. Simply put, the show looks fantastic, from the brightly lit Clover Club to the dark oil fields overlooking the glittering city. Unfortunately, beneath all that gorgeous dressing, there's not much going on. Bernthal does his best, but Teague is a dull leading man with petty motivations, hiding behind a veil of stoicism. As the audience's guide into this complex world, he leaves much to be desired.
There's a lack of focus to Mob City's storytelling that makes the series feel a bit confused. While the primary focus is on Joe as both a narrator and the driving force of the central plot, the initial two episodes both begin with flashbacks to the 1920s, showing the heavy hitters of the L.A. mob scene in their youth. An additional flashback scene shows an early success of Captain William Parker (Neal McDonough), the man leading the rehabilitation of the LAPD. Teague's narration of these tangents doesn't make them feel as integrated into the main story as they should be. It feels like in the midst of his pressing concerns, the detective is taking time off to teach an elective course on the history of organized crime in America. If Darabont was so fascinated by the rise of Siegel, Cohen and Parker, why didn't he just make a show about them? Why, instead, are they filling supporting roles to the fictional and far less interesting Teague?
While the cast and production values of Mob City are impressive, the show pales in comparison to modern noir films like L.A. Confidential or the similar fiction-plus-history organized crime series Boardwalk Empire. It sure is lovely to gaze upon, but sadly, that beauty is an empty promise.