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TNT’s ‘Mob City’ coming is a modern-day tribute to film noir

By Dave Itzkoff
New York Times
MOB CITY
Doug Hyun -
"MOB CITY"

With “Mob City” (which begins an unconventional six-episode, three-week season on TNT on Dec. 4), Frank Darabont hopes to put the bitterness of his “Walking Dead” experience behind him and immerse himself in another genre filled with desperate characters, squalid settings and occasional outbursts of violence.

“Mob City,” a fictional look at the seedy underbelly of 1940s-era Los Angeles, is a modern-day tribute to the venerable film noir. It’s no sure thing, in the way that undead apocalypses have come to be, and not an easy fit for TNT, a network better known for crime procedurals such as “Rizzoli & Isles.”

But Darabont knows only one way to create, which is to throw himself into a project wholeheartedly, and, as he said, only one solution to “deal with any vast disappointment: You do your best to get over it.”

Speaking by Skype from Los Angeles, Darabont, 54, a man with a round, bald head and a mischievous goatee, took occasional drags from an electronic cigarette that glowed red as he spoke about the stylized mystery and crime films he grew up on.

Whether it was “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard” or “anything in black and white with high-key lighting,” Darabont said, “I found it to be such a specialized world, no less than, say, Altair IV in ‘Forbidden Planet.’”

Executive producer of the first season of “The Walking Dead,” he was less inclined to discuss his departure from the hit show, saying, “Suffice to say, there was some conflict that couldn’t be resolved.”

Darabont did not have a new project, but soon found one in John Buntin’s nonfiction book “L.A. Noir,” which chronicles the ascents of the principled police chief William Parker and his nemesis, the gangster Mickey Cohen.

Thus began the story of the fictional “Mob City” protagonist Joe Teague (played by “The Walking Dead’s” Jon Bernthal), a World War II veteran and Marine turned Los Angeles cop, who is “trying to find true north on his moral compass, in a world where the compass readings are all haywire,” Darabont said.

Michael Wright, head of programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies, said the first episode of “Mob City” is perhaps “more deliberate than, say, a typical procedural or action-adventure show.” But “the second hour begins to really unwind,” he said, and the season fully pays off after its initial six episodes.

“The cost of a really great resolution to any story,” Wright said, “is careful character and plot work.”

As to why TNT was taking the unusual step of broadcasting all six episodes of “Mob City” in two-hour blocks across three consecutive Wednesday nights, Wright said this is how audiences prefer to watch serialized shows in an age of binge viewing.

“We’re going to give you two hours a night to really indulge that,” he said.

Wright said Darabont’s falling out with AMC and his reputation for speaking his mind to executives had not made TNT averse to working with him.

Television networks, Wright said, are “all chasing somebody with a voice.”

“Well, Frank’s got a voice,” he said. “And Frank has evidenced the ability to get that voice on-screen, because he is passionate.”

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