One more way to ‘Get Shorty’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - ROBERT LLOYD TELE­VI­SION CRITIC robert.lloyd@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATimesTVLloyd

The El­more Leonard novel, pre­vi­ously a movie, comes to TV on Epix in 10 episodes. A re­view.

There is a mo­ment about half­way through the 10-episode run of “Get Shorty,” a new se­ries pre­mier­ing Sun­day on Epix, when a guard wishes good morn­ing to a “Mr. Palmer” as he drives through the gate of a Hol­ly­wood stu­dio. It’s a quick, rare nod to the 1990 El­more Leonard novel on which the tele­vi­sion show is “based in part,” and Barry Son­nen­feld’s pop­u­lar 1995 film ver­sion with John Tra­volta as loan shark Chili Palmer.

As cre­ated for tele­vi­sion by Davey Holmes (“Shame­less”) and writ­ten and di­rected by a va­ri­ety of ex­pert hands, the se­ries pre­serves its pre­de­ces­sors’ ba­sic premise of a hood­lum mixed up with the film busi­ness and a down-on-his-luck pro­ducer of B movies. A gam­bling debt and a film script are cen­tral to the story.

But the char­ac­ters are new in their par­tic­u­lars, their goals and their re­la­tion­ships. Ton­ally too, it de­parts from the Son­nen­feld film in dif­fer­ent ways. On the one hand, as a com­edy, it’s sweeter, less sar­donic and warmer to­ward Hol­ly­wood than even many films not in­volv­ing gang­sters; on the other, the parts that in­volve just the gang­sters are dark and vi­o­lent and not funny at all.

Chris O’Dowd plays Miles, a fixer work­ing along­side best and only friend Louis (Sean Bridgers) for south­ern Ne­vada crime queen­pin Amara (Lidia Porto) in the dust­bin town of Pahrump. As we meet him, Miles, who is sep­a­rated from his wife and yearn­ing to have his fam­ily back, has grown crit­i­cally dis­sat­is­fied with his sta­tion and oc­cu­pa­tion, work he was sure would be “tem­po­rary” but from which he has not been able to ex­tri­cate him­self.

Miles wants to “make some­thing that lasts,” rather than just bury the bod­ies that are a byprod­uct of his busi­ness. (He is not him­self a killer or even tem­per­a­men­tally vi­o­lent — though a back cat­a­log of pop­u­lar cul­ture an­ti­heroes leads us to fear he might be — that is cru­cial to his stand­ing with the viewer.)

“Now, maybe in a movie, dig­ging in a hole would be ex­cit­ing,” he says to Louis, as they’re dig­ging a hole (Miles is a fan of the movies, es­pe­cially old ones). “There’d be a sound­track, and ac­tors, and a plot; it would lead some­where. But in real life, dig­ging a hole is un­pleas­ant and bor­ing and a pain.”

Miles and Louis are sent to Los Angeles, a city they don’t know, to col­lect a debt from a screenwriter. The writer doesn’t have the money, but he has an un­sold screen­play, a pe­riod ro­mance called “The Ad­mi­ral’s Mis­tress.” With one thing and an­other, Miles leaves with the script and a vi­sion of his fu­ture. This leads him to pro­ducer Rick (Ray Ro­mano), a maker of cin­e­matic schlock whose life is also in cri­sis. Rick had am­bi­tion once, but a pas­sion project flopped and he has sworn off art.

“You want to make your money back,” he tells Miles. “Don’t get hung up on that qual­ity thing.”

But Miles has the am­bi­tion Rick lacks. A tale of a man who goes to war and comes back changed, “The Ad­mi­ral’s Mis­tress” feels per­sonal to him: “It’s about how we all carry around this im­age of a bet­ter per­son, you know, and we think if I could be that per­son I’d be happy. But all it does is … drive us crazy.” Amara, who will also be­come in­volved with his project, sees her­self there as well.

It’s pat in a way, and yet at the same time it gets to the heart of the matter, to what moves us in the movies, those sliv­ers of our­selves we find there. In­deed, the power of sto­ry­telling is the se­ries’ un­der­ly­ing in­ci­den­tal theme. Amara ac­tu­ally has her right hand Ed­die (Isaac Keys, mak­ing an im­pres­sion in a part notable for its still­ness) read Miles’ script aloud to her.

“That’s the beauty of a story like this,” says Miles. “Even if you’re a psy­chopath, it touches your heart.”

Ro­mano, a stand-up comic turned sit­com star, has ripened into a fine ac­tor; he is highly lik­able in a slightly de­pres­sive way. But this is O’Dowd’s show more than any­one’s — all the major char­ac­ters con­nect to him — Rick, Louis, Amara, Amara’s loose-can­non nephew Yago (Goya Robles), skep­ti­cal wife Katie (Lucy Wal­ters), af­fec­tion­ate daugh­ter Emma (Carolyn Dodd) and film ex­ec­u­tive April (Me­gan Steven­son).

“What’s an ex­ec­u­tive?” Miles asks when he meets her.

I’ve got noth­ing neg­a­tive to say about “Get Shorty” that doesn’t feel like nit-pick­ing as I start to write it. (A side plot about Ne­vada turf wars feels be­side the point and out of joint with the main story, but who knows if it may prove oth­er­wise in the end?)

It’s well-made and beau­ti­fully played, and one wel­comes, for a change, the story of a per­son at­tempt­ing to pull him­self out of a life of crime in­stead of one slid­ing into it. We have had quite enough of those.

Michele K. Short Epix

MILES (Chris O’Dowd) is a small-town fixer who has a gun pulled on him by his crime boss’ loose-can­non nephew Yago (Goya Robles) in “Get Shorty” on Epix.

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