Epix launches its best series yet with this charming, addictive adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel and 1995 film.
Not only is the third time the charm for Epix and its ventures into scripted series, but the third time — in the guise of the improbable Get Shorty — is charming, addictive and an eye-opener of impeccable quality.
The premium subscription service jumped into the scripted TV business last year with the drama Berlin Station and the comedy Graves, two decent but hardly necessary additions to the Peak TV landscape (and, given that you had to pay for them, hardly an easy sell). And it’s not like expectations were very high for a TV series inspired by Elmore Leonard’s book Get Shorty (there was a 1995 movie of the same name, of course), especially if that was just a jumping-off point.
Of course, expectations were also non-existent for a TV series based on Fargo — and look what happened there.
What happened with Get Shorty is that creator and writer Davey Holmes absolutely understands the DNA that made Leonard’s book work, and yet creatively reimagines his own scenario where thieves and Hollywood intersect for a combination of violence and humor. It’s a tonally difficult balancing act that, in the span of the first three episodes, never falters.
Holmes (Shameless, In Treatment, Damages) makes Get Shorty his own with a fluid and confident style, a brilliantly shot pilot from director Allen Coulter (The Sopranos, etc.) and a winning cast highlighted by tour de force performances from Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (Moone Boy, The IT Crowd, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), who proves that his stellar dramatic turn in Men of a Certain Age was no fluke.
So much goes right instantly for Get Shorty that it’s hard to know exactly where to place the credit, but Holmes, Coulter and the O’Dowd-Romano duo hitting the writing, directing and acting trifecta is probably the right start. But maybe the true key is being able to sustain the level of the pilot — which doesn’t seem to be problematic for Get Shorty as the supporting cast rises up to shine. If you’re keeping track of surprises at home, in an environment where lots of people in the know are predicting that only the biggest cable brands and channels will survive, we now have three summer series that snuck up and surprised critics when they weren’t exactly expecting it: Discovery’s scripted miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber, Mr. Mercedes on AT&T’s Audience Network and now Epix’s Get Shorty.
Once again, it’s a good time to be a TV viewer.
Holmes has taken Leonard’s story and given it some tweaks, making it distinctly different from the book and movie. O’Dowd plays Miles Daly, a thoughtful enforcer for a small Nevada crime syndicate whose ruthless boss, Amara (Lidia Porto), is not shy about dropping bodies out in the desert with the help of her unhinged nephew, Yago (Goya Robles), who thinks Miles needs to be taken out.
Miles himself is ready for a change. He’s estranged from his wife, Katie (Lucy Walters), whom he’s trying to win back, fueled by his love for their 12-year-old daughter, Emma (Carolyn Dodd), whom he doesn’t want to disappoint.
When Amara sends Miles and fellow enforcer/cleaner Louis (Sean Bridgers) to Los Angeles to collect on a debt from a screenwriter who was gambling to finance the best script he’d written (but nobody would make), fate opens a door — to Hollywood.
The best conceit of Leonard’s book remains in Get Shorty — and that’s an outsider’s love for Hollywood, and how maybe crime and the movie business share the same low moral equivalency.
Miles — and especially Louis — may not be the brightest, but at least Miles appreciates classic movies and a story well told. So when they pilfer the script from the in-debt writer and hatch a plan to launder Amara’s illegal drug and gang money through the movie business, they hire down-on-his-luck producer Rick Moreweather (Romano) to make it happen. What ensues is a wry, quick-witted and quick-paced dramedy that melds two disparate cultures.
With O’Dowd and Romano at the center, Get Shorty also benefits enormously from a well-cast ensemble that doesn’t have an obvious weak link, even in the bit parts. Standouts include Bridgers, whose sidekick enforcer has more quirks than expected; Megan Stevenson as movie exec April Quinn; Porto and Robles as different gangsters; and Dodd, who avoids any kid clichés as Emma.
You may have a full DVR as it is and a lengthy to-do list, but you definitely need to Get Shorty.
Created and written by: Davey Holmes, inspired by the Elmore Leonard book
Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Ray Romano, Sean Bridgers, Lidia Porto, Megan Stevenson, Goya Robles, Lucy Walters, Carolyn Dodd
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Premieres: Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Epix)