With The Making of the Mob: New York, AMC and producer Stephen David go where so many have gone before – just with less style, insight, entertainment value or any memorable performances. It tries to be a documentary, it tries to be a drama, and it definitively fails at both. If you’ve literally never seen a mob movie or series before, have somehow missed the dozens of crime classics that tackle the subject matter with gravitas and legendary performances and genuine thrills, then maybe this Boardwalk Empire-lite will be just the thing for you. If you’re a fan of the genre though, you might fall asleep before the episode is halfway through. Or you might die of laughter from hysterically bad scenes like the one in this video below — to be fair, this is an “extra scene,” but it was too funny to not include in this review.

The show’s premiere, narrated by Ray Liotta, who is undoubtedly capitalizing on his glorious Goodfellas past to pay the bills of his inglorious present, looks to combine interviews with mob history experts and dramatic reenactments to explain the origins, rise and tribulations of that infamous, Prohibition-era trio: Charley “Lucky” Luciano (Rich Graff), Meyer Lansky (Ian Bell) and Bugsy Siegel (Jonathan C. Stewart). We’re treated to such probing insights into how Luciano’s traumatic childhood may have played a role in forging his criminal identity with an expert testifying that Luciano’s father turned to drink as a result of chronic unemployment, followed by a truly dramatic scene of young Lucky’s dad muttering drunkenly in Italian and gently slamming a potato on the kitchen table. If that’s not an experience that leads one to become a cold-blooded killer for cash, I don’t know what is.

This show seems incredibly ill-conceived and doomed to mediocrity or worse by its very premise and style, and it’s not helped much by the execution either. By being both a shallow documentary and lame drama, AMC appears to want to have its cake and blast it to smithereens with a Tommy gun too. Some of the “experts” the show features for interviews are just actors who happened to play a Mafioso in a classic mob film or series that you should just watch or re-watch instead of this. It seems like a cynical attempt to pander to an audience the producers assume would rather die than listen to a history professor who actually knows what he/she is talking about. I guess this means it’s okay to feature Matthew McConaughey as an expert on any upcoming documentary about theoretical physics and wormholes because he was in Interstellar? Before you answer that, don’t forget, he was in The Wedding Planner too. But I digress. Even when the real experts are allowed to speak on mafia history, they get just enough time to skim the surface with basic, generic information before the show turns into a poorly crafted drama, complete with stilted dialogue, one-dimensional characterizations, an overpowering, cheesy, unrelenting musical score and forgettable performances. What performances are memorable are so for all the wrong reasons — during one scene, Luciano shoots at a truck driver to hijack his booze, and the victim hilariously deadpans, “don’t you know whose truck this is? It’s Masseria’s.” If you were a fan of Boardwalk Empire, which was also set during Prohibition and featured memorable performances and portrayals of figures like Luciano, Lansky and Masseria, the show’s drama will be even harder to swallow, because you’ll know a pale imitation when you see one.

Maybe if AMC had opted to make a straight documentary series with minimal use of dramatic reenactments, The Making of the Mob: New York would have been worth watching. With so many great mob movies and series in recent and distant memory, though, the path they chose was destined to fail by comparison to the many gems of the genre, especially coming so soon off the heels of Boardwalk Empire. The good news is that AMC is pairing each episode with crime classics like Goodfellas and Scarface, so you can always re-watch those instead! Though I wouldn’t even suggest that, since they’re on AMC and would be censored beyond recognition. There’s no silver lining to be found here, AMC should just stick to meth chefs and crooked lawyers for its criminal fare.

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