Is it possible to obey the law when there was corruption going all around even the most law abiding citizens? Does looking the other way tend to corrupt even the most honorable individuals? That’s part of the premise behind the new TNT drama “Public Morals,” which followed a group of cops trying to keep the peace while the criminals were looking to simply do the opposite. Sure, the premise may be somewhat familiar, but the show’s attention to detail and sometimes breezy humor make it worth watching.
“Public Morals” followed Terry Muldoon (Edward Burns) an officer in the Public Morals division who tries to stop anything morally illegal, such as gambling and prostitution, but many of the cops in Muldoon’s division have been swayed by the seductive charms that plagued New York in the early 1960s. Muldoon’s partner Charlie Bullman (Michael Rapaport) was becoming interested in a charming prostitute (Katrina Bowden) he almost arrested and would gladly beat up any man who tried to hurt her. Bullman’s fondness for the woman could get him into some serious trouble down the line if he wasn’t too careful. Muldoon also worked closely with his cousin Sean O’Bannion (Austin Stowell) who had a bit of a temper and hatred of his father; a criminal, a drunk and unpopular with everyone in the family’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. A recent altercation with his father left him on a short list of suspects when his father was brutally gunned down, but it turned out that there was a war brewing in the Irish-American mob that could ruin everything that Muldoon’s division was doing. Terry’s wife Christine (Elizabeth Masucci) was looking for a safe place to raise their three children, while their oldest son James (Cormac Cullinane) was becoming a bit of delinquent against Terry’s repeated warnings. Terry also had to contend with a brewing war in the mob that was started by Rusty Patton (Neal McDonough) in a questionable attempt for respect that could only backfire if he wasn’t too careful. Rusty’s father Joe (Brian Dennehy) does everything he can to keep the peace, but his position of power might be slipping away from him as too many enemies kept coming into his crosshairs. Will Patton be able to stay in control or will Muldoon have to focus on keeping more than gamblers away?
In terms of questions, “Public Morals” has posed a few, but the biggest remained as to who would remain the last man standing. The only certainty so far was that Burns’ Muldoon was the only guaranteed character that was going to make it to the end of the season, since Burns created the show Muldoon’s future will not be too grim anytime soon. The show has managed to set an interesting tone in its first four episodes that showcased both the cops and the criminals who had their own honor codes along with consequences for those who violate those rules. The cops and the criminals both demonstrated a sense of humor and violence at their circumstances with situations often changing in a split second. The show also seemed to have a growing cast of characters as the cops’ families seemed to be expanding in each episode. It’s nice to have a variety of people for viewings to get a glimpse of what early 60s New York was like, but the show would also be wise to reign their focus on the show’s core characters; mainly the Public Morals division cops as they navigated through a very corrupt environment and changed because of the temptations they embraced a little too much. The show also seemed to have a bit of a noir type vibe that mixed intrigue, sex, murder and a mystery of who would be let standing when the season ended. The first few episodes focused on the dynamics of Muldoon’s family and his partners in keeping the peace. The first few episodes set the tone as to why the cops would occasionally take money or look the other way when the situation called for it. One of the premiere’s earliest scenes involved Muldoon taking money from a man who was busted for soliciting a prostitute, which he gladly took to teach the man a lesson for his foolish behavior. It explained a lot and definitely the tone as to what the series was going to be like and how there was a fine line between good and evil. All that it took to be different was to cross it once. Let’s hope that some of the supporting cast members get more to do than being mere background players as the season begins to go into full swing. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Burns, Rapaport and McDonough played three very different men who seemed to be going in three very different directions that could either lead to success or disaster. Burns’ Muldoon was designed to be the ultimate family man who had to adapt to the times by bending the rules and displaying some ruthlessness to get his point across. His scenes with Cullinane displayed Muldoon as a character who often came across as an uncompromising indvidual who would gladly to go to bat for his kids, even when they needed some tough love to prevent them from going down the wrong path. Those scenes that Burns shared with Cullinane’s James showcased a dramatic tone mixed with the right amount of fatherly humor of bonding with his teenage son as he was ushered into a very grown up world. Burns also shared a decent rapport with both Rapaport and Masucci that allowed Muldoon to make the occasional wisecrack and wide down from some of the more intense moments in the show. Rapaport, on the other hand, was portraying a wildly talkative cop who had his own code of what his life should be like. His daughter was growing up and getting married. Rapaport’s Bullman appeared to be single and he was looking for comfort in all the wrong places. His scenes with Bowden showcased how Rapaport’s Bullman had a sense of awkwardness in his personal life that wasn’t there in his personal one. Hopefully, Bowden and Rapaport will share more scenes together to see where the storyline goes. McDonough has played some dangerous individuals before, but his character Rusty was a much more combustible combination of a man seeking his father’s approval and looking to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the character gets neither thing that he wants most. McDonough displayed a sense of boiling anger that lurked under the surface and was ready to explode at any given moment. Fingers crossed that scene will lead to handcuffs or a grand exit perfect for any potential villain.
“Public Morals” premiered on August 25th and airs Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on TNT.
Verdict: Burns created a colorful world with even more colorful characters, but the show excels best it focused on its core characters.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)