TNT sure seems like it wants to get into the prestige TV game with Mob City. But how is this mob show different from all other mob shows?
Though TNT has been working with some high profile names on its scripted programming—Steven Spielberg, for instance, executive produces Falling Skies—it has not emerged as a real competitor to the likes of AMC or HBO. But according to Mob City's creator Frank Darabont, the creator of The Walking Dead and writer/director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, the network knows it has something special here and is acting appropriately. "We have such a fun, cool intense noir themed show," Darabont told a Comic Con audience Saturday in a recorded message. "I wanted to tell you how exciting the opportunity has been, that TNT has given us to do this show. They’re backing a very interesting and unusual approach here. They’ve shown great faith and great support."
That said, it's hard to shake that there's something familiar about the New York-set opening of the show, 18 minutes of which screened at Comic Con. It's dark, moody, and some of the real-life gangsters portrayed on screen are even players on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. In fact the show opens with a flashback to Boardwalk times, even though the majority of the action of the six-episode drama takes place in post-WWII Los Angeles. When the pilot ultimately leaves behind New York, you start to see glimmers of something that might be, even though you don't even get a glimpse at some of the main characters like Edward Burns' Bugsy Siegel and Milo Ventimiglia's lawyer. Comedian Simon Pegg shows up doing a great job in a funny-serious role as a guy that needs some help from Jon Bernthal's maybe not so good guy cop, Joe Teague. The show consciously draws from noir traditions with a no nonsense voiceover, shadowy corners, and smoke in everyone's eyes. Though it's easy to see where this could turn into something fun, almost pulpy, it's hard to know how much it wants to enter the ranks of the Breaking Bad's of the TV world.
When it came time for the panel with actors Burns, Ventimiglia, and Robert Knepper those onstage turned to place Darabont in the canon of great TV auteurs. "It really was just about the storytelling and the words," Burns said about his choice to do the show. "These scripts are so good. When you look at what's happening in television right now that is where the great writing is." Burns even doled out the high praise that the show is "the most fun [he's] had as an actor since Saving Private Ryan."
Still, in trying to distinguish the show from its predecessors the panelists seemed to have a harder time. When the moderator, TV Guide editor Debra Birnbaum asked why the "antihero" is so popular, there was a pause. "Now I've stumped everybody," she said. Knepper jumped in to talk about the "grey area" of the characters. When Birnbaum asked how the show is similar and dissimilar to other film noir and mob shows, Knepper also piped up with an equally vague response. "What makes each of these shows—whether they are movies or TV shows great—is that the story itself is very specific," he said, adding that it centers around "one specific event that happens that is a screw up that has to be covered up." He said it's not a "general, hey, we're doing a story about the 40s. It's a life or death situation we've got to figure this out right now."
Birnbaum added that one of the differences in this show too is that TNT is broadcasting it as an "event series" with six episodes over three weeks. That format has had some worried that perhaps TNT doesn't have a lot of faith in the series, but Ventimiglia framed it as a nod to the Netflix model. "What a genius set up," Ventimiglia said. "I personally, I binge watch shows. I don't know about y'all." The audience chimed in agreement. The actors on stage, however, did make reference to the possibility of a second season.
Will it all work? It starts December 4. Watch the new promo, also screened at the panel, below.