Time to Find the Magic in 'Magic City' as Season 2 Kicks Off

Magic City season 2 key art - p 2013

One of last season's most underrated dramas, Magic City returns for its second season on Starz (9 p.m. Friday) and retains all of its compelling drama, high-gloss period-piece appeal and richly unspooling story. Most impressive is that the series, which improved with each episode last season, feels like it's as assured and nuanced as ever, cashing in its potential.

If you weren't onboard last season, tonight's premiere provides an in-depth catch-up and should be easily accessible to newbies.

The series is set in Miami Beach, a place that in 1959 is emerging as "an international destination for celebrities, politicians and America's most notorious gangsters." It's also extremely close to Cuba, which in this era gives it both glamour and danger.

PHOTOS: 'Magic City' Premiere: Stars Celebrate the Starz Drama's Second Season

All of this is both boon and nightmare for Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who fulfilled his bold, smart dream of building a grand hotel on the beach, but had to make a deal with the mob to get it built. The money came from Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), aka “The Butcher,” who envisioned a future of Miami allowing gambling and, with his hooks in the hottest hotel on the beach -- Ike’s Miramar Playa -- he’d have the best spot in the state to print money.

As in the first season, Ike’s desperation to rid himself of Ben is at the core of season two, though the stakes are now much higher with Castro’s Cuba putting a strain on profits from the casinos Ben runs there (as part of the Chicago mob). This season Magic City is adding James Caan as Sy Berman, Ben’s boss and the head of the Chicago mob. Also added is Esai Morales as a former rebel who fought alongside Castro.

Magic City is Starz’ big, sophisticated drama entry. (The channel gave up on the acclaimed Boss after two seasons.) When Magic City launched last year, it was easy to see the allure -- it had a Mad Men-like costume glamour element, a Sopranos mob element and plenty of Starz-approved nudity. What it needed was to prove that it was in the game for artistic reasons and not just to be eye candy. Creator (and writer) Mitch Glazer made that plenty clear at the start and ended up layering a nicely nuanced tale by the middle of the season -- and one that had really matured by season’s end.

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Both Morgan and Huston were already delivering excellent performances (among others, in a fine cast that includes Kelly Lynch and Olga Kurylenko). Certainly Caan should add to that.

The trick for Magic City to gain the audience it deserves is to hope that more people subscribe to (or simply find) Starz on their cable and satellite packages. It’s a shame the channel had to give up on Boss, because that would have given them a pair of high-end dramas. The channel is investing a lot of money in programming for the future, and it may just be that it will take time for a wider audience to figure out that there’s a lot to choose from there. (Of course, there’s a lot to choose from everywhere these days, which is a blessing and a curse if you’re making television in this ongoing drama Renaissance.)

But here’s the thing -- Magic City has a lot of exceptional working parts to it. Glazer knows the era -- mood, look, feel. There’s a real visceral sense of his passion at work here. It’s also a show that, like Mad Men, is just beautiful to look at. Here’s hoping the second season finds a wider audience as the storytelling hits its stride.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine