Public Morals: Family is Family

‘Nobody gives me any shit’, is the first thing Rusty (Neal McDonough, Arrow, Mob City, Band of Brothers, Boomtown) says and he’s not kidding. Apart from picking out guns, he’s not afraid to use them, too, coldblooded.

Reversed Typecasting
Some actors get typecast as the villain, bad guy, terrorist, mobster and any kind of other scum of the earth, and have made a career out of it. Their looks just make them the perfect antagonists. The odd thing is, Neal McDonough’s looks don’t exactly say ‘I am a bad man’; he comes across as a sympathetic guy, actually. Still, more often than not he’s cast as amoral businessmen, gunslingers and psychopaths. On Public Morals, Rusty tries to be smart, tactical, restrained, but fails in every department.

A Kaleidoscopic Inside Look
We’re dealing with the aftermath of the murder of crime boss Mr. O (Timothy Hutton). Terry (Edward Burns) tries to put the pieces together. His uncle had a lot of enemies, so the list of suspects is a long one. The investigation is at the heart of the episode, but then again, it’s not.
Public Morals has a way of luring you into its house and showing you every room, in a nice, welcoming manner. It’s what many other shows easily get wrong, but Burns’ personal intertwined cop and mob family project hits all the right notes. A kaleidoscopic inside look into every corner of Terry’s family, the Public Morals Division and many, many more characters – all played by terrific, seasoned actors – is a recipe for boredom (it’s extremely hard to pull off a show with such a big ensemble cast, and make every storyline evenly interesting), but the series offers so much in pace, tone, dialogue, camera work, direction and art direction, that it’s a feast for one’s eyes.

A Romantic Take
This show makes the Beetle car look like the coolest thing you could ever drive. Also, when did we stop wearing hats like that? The way the houses, bars and police precincts are furnished and lit. The way men and women dress, in general. The other cars, the music. The way children are brought up, fair and just. The series must be a highly romantic version of the 1960s, but I love it.

The Would-Be Witness
Rusty’s killed Mr. O and tells Joe Patton (Brian Dennehy, Dynasty, Rambo: First Blood, Romeo + Juliet), the guy presumably at the very top of the mob food chain, he’s going to take care of it. The Robin to his Batman is Tommy Red (Fredric Lehne, American Horror Story, the pilot on Con Air and the marshall escorting Kate on LOST). His first idea is to cook up a witness. A witness who saw nothing. They rehearse the story he’s going to have to sell to the police, but can’t tell it straight – and gets strangled by Rusty.

Then, he pays a visit to the only real witness. The hooker who ‘saw the whole thing’, Suzie (Erin Darke), who’s just about to leave town, but then Rusty appears outside of her house. I would’ve sworn Suzie was played by Jennifer Lawrence. The heavy makeup and Darke’s physique make her almost identical to Lawrence’s part in American Hustle.
When Rusty offers her a ride to the train station (but we all know that’s the one place he’s not going to take her), she blurts out she’s not going to tell a soul about what happened. Without a second thought, he shoots her, then and there, on the sidewalk, and leaves her lying there.
(I’m not sure about his reasoning, but I guess she needs to be found by the cops next week, to drive the story forward.)

The show really stands out in the way it’s shot. There are long shots, the camera moves very organically through a scene, the colors – even though there are lots of different brown tones – are spectacular, maybe there’s a bit too much darkness around the edges of the frame, as if we’re watching through binoculars, but other than that, the image alone makes for a greatly entertaining hour of television.

Guest Stars
Another thing that shouldn’t go unmentioned, is the short scene between Terry and his father Mike (Peter Gerety, The Wire, The Job, Brotherhood, Brothers & Sisters, Sneaky Pete and the 1996 comedy called… Public Morals). It’s a very mature, lovingly, realistic conversation between a grown man and his dad, both being their own man, able to talk about whatever issues they used to have in the past.
Okay, maybe not so realistic, but a father and his son, treating each other as equals, you don’t see that very often in drama series.
Speaking of guest stars, Mr. O’s widow’s played by Michele Hicks (whom we all know as Shane Vendrell’s irrational wife Mara). Harry Hardware, a character who seems to have his fingers in a lot of Hell’s Kitchen pies, is played by Al Sapienza (Person of Interest, Brotherhood, Mikey Palmice on The Sopranos and Philly Falzone on Prison Break).

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