TV Reviews

Peak TV Cheat Sheet: Get Shorty

If we’re all drowning in the sea of Peak TV, consider this Cheat Sheet a life preserver.

Today, I turn my attention to an Epix Original most people didn’t even know existed until the first season recently popped up on Netflix. That’s peak TV for you- Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano headline a TV adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel which had previously been turned into a popular John Travolta movie in the 90s, yet hardly anyone knows about it. But it exists and, thankfully, it’s pretty dang good.

Get Shorty (2017-Present)

CREATED BY | Davey Holmes, a TV writer whose credits include Shameless, In Treatment, Damages, and Pushing Daisies. Get Shorty is the first show he’s created. Fun, random fact from Wikipedia: “Holmes played keyboard with the popular ska punk band, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, including on their 1989 album, Devil’s Night Out.”

SOURCE MATERIAL | Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel of the same name, although only loosely. The 1995 John Travolta movie is a more faithful adaptation. In the movie, as in the book, a Florida mobster named Chili Palmer relocates to Hollywood and pursues his true dream of making movies. Turns out, making movies isn’t so different from working in the mob – everyone you encounter is a crook!

The TV series maintains the general spirit of that storyline without actually repeating any of the specific story beats or using any of the same characters. It’s less adaptation, more homage.

NUMBER OF EPISODES | 20, split evenly between two seasons

EPISODE LENGTH | Anywhere between 53 and 63 minutes.

NOTABLE CAST MEMBERS | In addition to O’Dowd and Romano, the regular cast includes Rectify’s Sean Bridgers. Billy Magnussen, Peter Stormare, Phil LaMarr, and Topher Grace – playing, what else, an arrogant movie star – pop up in memorable recurring roles. The second season adds a couple of bigger names like Felicity Huffman and Steven Weber, but for the most part, the show belongs to O’Dowd, Romano, Bridgers, and a selection of full-time co-stars who don’t have quite the same name recognition but make for an entertaining ensemble.

OFFICIAL LOGLINE | “Miles Daly (O’Dowd) works as muscle for a murderous crime ring in Nevada. For the sake of his daughter, he attempts to change professions and become a movie producer, laundering money through a Hollywood film. But instead of leaving the criminal world behind, he accidentally brings it with him to Los Angeles. He ends up working with Rick (Romano, doing his Romano schtick), a washed-up producer of low-quality films who becomes Miles’ partner and guide through the maze of Hollywood.”

IT’S KIND OF LIKE | A darker, grittier reboot of the Get Shorty movie that still manages to be just as funny.

THE REVIEW | Get Shorty was the second film in the John Travoltaissance – what, like Matthew McConaughey has the exclusive on adding “aissance” to his last name? – of the mid-90s. It started with Pulp Fiction in ‘94, then Get Shorty in ‘95, followed by Michael, Phenomenon, Broken Arrow, and Face Off in the years after. By the time Be Cool, the Get Shorty sequel which redirected its satirical aim at the music industry, arrived in 2005, Travolta had gone cold again. The world’s interest in the continuing adventures of Chili Palmer seemed tepid at best.

However, as I’ve said before, in today’s Hollywood no good IP ever truly dies. It hardly registers as shocking that Epix turned Get Shorty into a John Travolta-less TV series over a decade after the last Chili Palmer movie. What’s more surprising is the way they’ve done it, producing a largely original series which is Get Shorty in name only. That means you don’t have to know anything about the book or movie to get into the show, and even if you are a fan of the originals this version of Get Shorty is going to be all new to you.

So, instead of Chili Palmer, we have Miles Daly, an Irishman working for the Nevada-Mexico mob. He reports directly to a widow with an ironclad grip over her husband’s small crime empire. Her diminutive stature and taciturn way of communicating obscure how terrifying she truly is. (How exactly Miles ended up working for her remains mostly unexplored in the first season.)

Daly is in many ways the anti-Chili Palmer: He’s not a smooth-talker with slick-backed hair, a high dollar fashion sense, and seemingly innate ability to project charisma hand in hand with intimidation. Beyond that, he doesn’t have a particularly deep love for movies. Instead, his clothes are unremarkable, the clunker car he drives nearly unpresentable, and ambitions far more pragmatic in nature. In a way, he’s a more relatable figure, just a guy stuck in a shitty job and fighting to keep a hold of his family.

That informs the philosophy of the entire series. Whatever the movie did, think of someone even lower on the mob or Hollywood food chain, focus on them instead and make their situation even more pathetic. For example, Romano’s B-movie producer works in the shittiest of shitty Hollywood offices, and anywhere in the story where you might expect to find glamour you get desperate, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyles, particularly in the Nevada mob world which borrows a bit from Breaking Bad’s drug trade aesthetics.

This is still ultimately a Hollywood satire, though. Early on, Miles picks up a movie script in the home of a screenwriter he and his partner Louis (Bridgers) are sent to talk to kill. The script – a period piece about a woman torn between two men – moves Miles so much he quickly sees it as his way out of the life. If they just pretend they wrote the script and head to Hollywood with some laundered mob money they can get this thing into production.

The jokes about the movie industry come fast and furious at that point. Miles quickly becomes very concerned with actually making a good movie instead of just making something to launder mob money. Local coffee shops are stocked with people working on their screenplay. Producers soon realize the folly of casting an actor based solely on the good reviews she got for a movie they didn’t actually bother to watch. A young executive is blackmailed for wearing blackface to a party years ago. Romano’s Rick grows gradually more comfortable with working with the mob because, hey, at least he’s finally getting to make a movie again!

Underneath all of that is a season-long storyline which keeps you hooked the more the noose seems to tighten around Miles and Louis’ necks. Miles, in particular, is running so many cons and telling so many lies that he’s always under threat of being exposed by someone, yet he always seems to get his way thanks to his knack for blackmail and intimidation. He’s doing all of it, you remember, for his wife and daughter, who do gravitate back into his life exactly as he planned. So, you root for him while laughing at Hollywood.

The downside here is that at over 50-minutes apiece all of the episodes are all tad too long, which sometimes has a negative impact on the pacing. But, hey, if you like the show that just means you’ll have to split your binge of each season actress two or three days instead of one.

WORTH YOUR TIME IF YOU ENJOY… | Shows about Hollywood, like Episodes and The Comeback.

YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KNOW… | Epix appears to still be in that mode where you build your cable channel brand around gratuitous nudity. This isn’t early Game of Thrones-level nudity, of course, but there be boobs here. If you’re watching on Netflix, you’re not really going to have any warning about that.

IS IT COMING BACK? | Yes. A third season has been ordered and is due to premiere in August.

WHERE CAN I WATCH IT? | Season 1: Netflix and Epix. Season 2: Epix only.

What do you think? Does Get Shorty sound right for you? Or not so much? Let me know in the comments.

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