Friday, September 11, 2015

PUBLIC MORALS on TNT

"You don't think that your becoming a cop has anything to do with the fact that your father was a gangster?"  Edward Burns is the show's creator and lead actor. He's also the writer and director of the freshman episodes I saw.  Overall, he did a pretty good job.  I love a good cop show.  I used to work my nighttime schedules out so that I could be home to see Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue when they were on the air.  I was really interested in PUBLIC MORALS, a cop show set in the New York City of the 1960s.
The show has a very stylized look, like Mad Men did.  The plainclothes cops in Public Morals deal with prostitution and gambling.                                                                                                                

In the premiere episode, Irish Catholic cop Terry Muldoon (Edward Burns) and Charlie Bullman (the always dependable Michael Rapaport) are busting a lovely blonde who's been turning tricks in her apartment.  She can't afford New York on her regular salary.
We also get a peek at the public morals of the cops.  There's a line between morality and criminality as thin as a razor's edge in this series.  Muldoon pockets $200 from the wallet of the nervous family man john who has been seeing the part-time hooker.  That's light compared to the opening scene in the premiere episode.  There's a lot of walking into dive bars packed with tough guys while soundtrack background music plays in Public Morals.  In the first episode, a young cop walks into a dive bar and squares off with his father.  They proceed to beat the crap out of each other.  The son is punching his father because his father hit the mother.  There's obviously no love with father and son.  Here's a trailer for Public Morals.
The show hasn't found its real voice yet but it's interesting to watch.  There's a nice tone to it.  Dialogue is delivered at a steady, brisk pace -- not quite as fast as in the classic film comedy His Girl Friday (which is mentioned on one episode) but rarely do we get long, meaningful pauses like in daytime dramas.  The camerawork is fluid.  You can feel the Martin Scorcese influences in Burns' direction.  But there are times when a character or a patch of dialogue seems more like the 1990s than the 1960s.  And a few characters can come off a bit one-dimensional.  There are recognizable types.  There's the bad boy cop who digs hookers, there's the boyish-looking clean cut rookie no one likes, there's the drill sergeant-tempered Italian cop and the hip black cop (sharply played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson).  Then we have the Irish mob guys.  There are rivalries in a family. Muldoon and his family live in an apartment in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York.  It's described as crime-ridden and a place where you can't get a good meal.  Today, it has a sizable gay community and some fabulous restaurants.                                                                        

I hope it goes more into the psyche of Muldoon like NYPD got into the psyche of Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz).  We saw Sipowicz evolve into a fuller, happier person.  He went from alcoholic who'd made racist comments to a devoted father who embraced diversity.  On The Sopranos, it was fascinating to see a mob boss in therapy.  In Public Morals, we get the Irish mob who wants to own the West Side.  A heavyweight character got whacked in the first episode and, in the fourth episode that airs Sept. 15th, his best friend wants revenge.  A hooker who saw the murder must be found.  I felt like I'd seen that storyline already. This is why I think more nuance and complexities could pepper future scripts.  Also, Public Morals takes itself a tad too seriously.

The cast is fine.  Edward Burns looks great and has created a solid character for himself in the action-packes series.  He hit big in the indie film he wrote and directed, 1995's The Brothers McMullen.  He was good in Steven Spielberg's WW2 drama, Saving Private Ryan (1998).  But movies really didn't utilize his talents.  Hell, back in the days of Hollywood studios, he'd have been in private eye dramas, film noir and wartime love stories with his handsome looks and husky voice.  I hope this TNT series makes Hollywood get a clue.  Michael Rapaport hits the right note.  Fashion-wise, he's taken a tip from Gene Hackman in The French Connection.


Brian Dennehy has a really juicy role as an Irish patriarch.  Timothy Hutton, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the grief-stricken high schooler in 1980's Ordinary People, plays the physically abusive father.  The women in the episodes fell into three categories: Wives, girlfriends and hookers.  There was one nun.  The women's roles need to be developed.  However, Elizabeth Masucci is excellent as Muldoon's wife.

If I had to give Public Morals a grade, I'd give it a B.  Steven Spielberg is executive producer.


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