By Dan Moren
March 31, 2019 2:24 PM PT
We Like: Get Shorty (TV show)
These days I’m pretty judicious with my TV time: if something’s not working for me an episode or two in, it’s often not going to get the chance to go further. And frankly, given the embarrassment of riches that is Peak TV, we’ve got more shows to watch than we could possibly have time for in a thousand lifetimes.
So, when I stumble across something that not only does work but which I devour in the course of, say, a week, well, it’s a pleasant surprise.
To that end, allow me to recommend the first season of Get Shorty, loosely based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, which was itself previously adapted into a 1995 John Travolta film. The show shares little in common with the book and movie, other than the basic premise: a mob enforcer finds himself embroiled in the surreal world of Hollywood as he tries to make a movie.
The mix of these two worlds—crime and entertainment—proves rich ground for our characters, who already exist in a heightened environment that’s like, well, something out of a TV show. The first season of the black comedy chronicles the attempts to get a period romantic drama produced and the pitfalls that our hero encounters from both his criminal connections and the bizarre world of movie-making.
As with other adaptations based on Leonard’s works, the strength of Get Shorty largely rests on its colorful characters: our hero, Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd), is an Irish ex-pat who is weary of his job as an enforcer and just wants to create something instead of destroying things; his pal and partner, Louis (Deadwood’s Sean Bridgers), is initially reluctant to get involved, and generally takes a more practical approach of meting out violence when necessary, despite seemingly being at odds with his Mormon faith; and washed-up producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano), who’s just looking to get a win under his belt, enabling his blissful ignorance about exactly who he’s gotten involved with.
Chris O’Dowd, as Miles, nails the right blend of cheer and deadpan menace, while simultaneously making this occasionally unsavory character tremendously sympathetic, especially when dealing with his estranged wife Katie (Lucy Walters) and their daughter Emma (Carolyn Dodd). He wants to get out of the life of crime because of them, but finds himself even more closely tied to his casino-owning employer and crime boss, Amara de Escalones (Lidia Porto, in a performance that somehow manages to be both threatening and yet convey her character’s extreme vulnerability).
Crime shows aren’t always my thing, but Get Shorty evokes an atmosphere of one of my favorites of recent years—and another Elmore Leonard adaptation—Justified. Get Shorty, by comparison, is played more for laughs, and never quite ascends the emotional heights of that show, but it adeptly melds the small-time gangster story with Hollywood satire reminiscent of another recently concluded favorite, Showtime’s Episodes. Get Shorty sails along on the charm of its cast and its moments of extreme and hilarious dissonance, punctuated occasionally with violence that is both brutal and casual. (Be warned: this is definitely an adult show.) But it also manages to have a surprising amount of heart for a show that is essentially entirely about crooks (even when they wear suits), and treats even its most ridiculous characters with a respect that keeps it all from sliding into out-and-out reprehensibility.
The first season is available on Netflix; a second season aired last August, but is still only available on Epix and season three is scheduled for later this year.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]