…And Not In A Good Way
I have raved about many of Showtime’s series over the past several years, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t made some major mistake over that same period. And sadly, one really has to consider Black Monday, the 1980s Wall Street comedy, as one of their more prestigious failures.
Considering the level of the cast, and the fact that I tend to like period pieces in general, I was willing to give the series a fair amount of rope. All it did was refuse to tie itself into anything resembling a knot. The series centered around Maurice ‘Mo’ Monroe (Don Cheadle really needs to talk to his agent about taking Showtime roles), a trader who spent all of Season 1, trying to engage in ‘The Georgina Play’ , a plot that would make him and his firm a shitload of money. Throughout the first season, the big play seemed to be that when October 19, 1987 came, someone vital to the cast would die among the market crash. To say that eventual revelation of who the dead man was an extreme anticlimax was not even the greatest failure of the series. Everyone in the cast seemed determined to completely flip their loyalties based on obscure reasoning, and by the time the final double cross was over, Blair (Andrew Rannels), the corn-fed yokel who seemed to be set up as the fall guy had been positioned as the villain and Mo was actually heroic. And if you really were willing to buy into that, you had far more patience for the series than I did.
Part of me was really hoping that, now that the series was free from the baggage of being tied to a single event, the writers might be able to give the show some new life. Based on the two episodes that premiered last night, much like most of the cast, Black Monday is doubling down. It’s been a year, and Mo has been blamed for the ‘act of financial terrorism’ known as Black Monday, and is on the run. Dawn (Regina Hall) is now running Mo’s group, has stocked it with women, and is trying an S&L scheme. She’s still partners with Blair, who is now being considered a financial and political genius (he’s still neither) and is making rounds of lobbyists with his trophy wife (Casey Wilson). Mo is on the run, along with Keith (Paul Scheer) the only man who seems to be fully liberated from everything that has happened. And Mo seems about to get dragged back into everything he left behind.
Under better writers, one could definitely see a genuinely good idea here — the fact that all the people involved in trying to take over Wall Street are the ones who are permanent outsiders. But Black Monday either doesn’t have the energy to make the effort or doesn’t want to try. Almost every line out of every characters mouth is some kind of horrible pun or play on words that would barely past muster in a real 1980s comedy. The most offensive thing the series can seem to say about the REAL Lehman brothers was that they were incestuous twins, which as sick as it is pales in comparison to everything that company actually did when it was active. And by far, that is the most imaginative thing about the series.
It’s a real shame because there’s a very good cast here that is genuinely being wasted. The only cast member who really seems to know what she’s doing is Regina Hall as Dawn. The most realistic moment in the season premiere came when Dawn, who isn’t getting credit for what she’s accomplished, reads an article about herself in The Wall Street Journal — and it’s a puff piece, complete with a cheesecake picture. Her genuine rage at everybody is a genuine cry out to the world that the series can’t approach as well as the fact that she truly still misses — and understands — Mo’s problems. Yet when she finally finds him in the next episode, in a matter of minutes they’re making horrible puns about sharks on cocaine.
There’s so much potential in Black Monday, and just as in Cheadle’s previous series House of Lies, it is utterly wasted. Showtime has gone out of its way to portray this series as a true 1980s product, right up to using their old logo. Unfortunately, the 1980s product is not any of the good 1980s comedies (like say, Cheers or The Jeffersons) , but rather ALF or Head of the Class or any of the other brainless series of that era. I don’t know what the intended audience for this show is, but in an era in which were dealing with Wall Street and financial deregulation more than ever, I think this series wouldn’t work in any of them.
My score: 1.75 stars.