CRIME STORY “GET SHORTY” NOW GETS A TV SERIES TREATMENT
A TV Review by Tim Riley
TV CORNER: GET SHORTY ON EPIX Cable channel EPIX is relatively new to the business of original programming, but they may be getting the hang of coming up with decent product. The second season of “Berlin Station” and “Graves” is soon to come, but meanwhile the third entry is happening now.
The new 10-episode series has a familiar name in “Get Shorty,” given its pedigree of being “based in part on the novel by Elmore Leonard.” The semantics of that description is essential to knowing that the series veers from the novel as well as the 1995 film of the same title. Miami loan shark Chili Palmer (played in the movie by John Travolta) is nowhere to be found in the TV series. Instead, the hood with dreams of making it big in Hollywood is Irish actor Chris O’Dowd’s Miles Daly, a hitman from Nevada who wants to leave behind his criminal past.
Of course, given that even a series based only in part on an Elmore Leonard novel does not escape the prolific author’s idiosyncratic style in writing crime fiction, the TV series may have to convince the purists to put aside any doubts. Miles and his best friend Louis (Sean Bridgers) are the muscle for a crime ring based in Pahrump, Nevada, a dusty town located in the middle of nowhere sixty miles from Vegas but closer to Death Valley. The gang is involved in everything from gambling and prostitution to drug running and extortion. The leader is the matronly Amara (Lidia Porto) assisted by her primary henchman Yago (Goya Robles), a hot-tempered, trigger-happy moron with the brains of a beans and cheese burrito. Flashbacks inform us that Amara was raised in a harsh environment in rural Guatemala and that a hard early life molded her into a ruthless crime boss who is now looking to find new ways to launder cash into a legitimate front.
Maybe it’s fortuitous that Miles has dreams of becoming a movie producer in Hollywood after a botched hit job in Los Angeles results in his possession of a dandy movie script for a costume drama set in England. With his wife Katie (Lucy Walters) having grown weary of his illegitimate career, Miles wants to win her back from a slick golf pro by taking an improbable leap into the movies without the slightest idea how to navigate the cutthroat yet glamorous business in Tinseltown.
Spending more time in the pleasant California climate, Miles meets Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano), relegated to a crummy studio office that reflects his status of a washed-up producer of low quality films that go straight to video. More weather is desperately hanging on to the rungs of Hollywood relevancy and is constantly brushed aside by go-getter studio executive April Quinn (Megan Stevenson) who takes an initial fascination to Miles’ bold and assertive push for a script no one at the studio has even read. In the world of Elmore Leonard, the conceit is that thugs in love with the movies are seduced by the glamorous notion of making movies. The humor comes from quirky things like tough guy Miles saying he can’t read a script in a car because it makes him carsick.
As much as Miles wants his criminal history to become something of the past, it keeps rearing its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, including when Yago beats the golf pro senseless over a dispute about a parked car in front of Miles’ new Hollywood residence. Back in Nevada, Amara and her goons are engaged in a violent turf war with a rival gang. Contrary to the wishes of Yago and his desire to use a tacky, loud nightclub for money laundering, Amara becomes enamored of the idea that she could finance a film that might star John Stamos.
Ray Romano’s Moreweather is delightfully sleazy as the B-movie producer who struggles with cost overruns and prima donna actors whose passions are limited to being serviced by prostitutes in their trailers. Despite misgivings, Moreweather begrudgingly becomes Miles’ partner to film the script entitled “The Admiral’s Mistress” on a limited budget financed by underworld cash, even though his reservations give way to the reality of trying to keep his failing career afloat.
Three episodes of “Get Shorty” were made available for preview, and it is evident that unlike the movie the pace is definitely slower in order to stretch the intrigue to a larger timeframe. The characters may prove interesting enough for a long-term investment. At the summer TV press tour, Chris O’Dowd had an interesting take on the difference between the film and the TV series, noting that both are using the same original material with the book but “it’s like visiting a bar at a different time of the week.” “The movie’s kind of like going to a bar on a Saturday night when everybody’s looking well,” said O’Dowd, and “we kind of visit the bar at 3 a.m. on a Thursday, when the floor is kind of sticky. And the bar bill’s about to arrive and you can’t afford to pay it.”