Recommending new TV shows to your friends is a social faux pas at this point. Everyone already has plenty of shows to watch, and who are you to insist they give up even more of their precious time?
That’s all a roundabout way of saying that Get Shorty is one of the few shows I want to recommend to people. The Good Place was the last show I could recommend without reservations, but Get Shorty is so good that I don’t mind risking offending my friends with their never-ending watch-lists.
Why do I like the show so much? One explanation is that I’m predisposed to like it because Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite authors. This came about in high school because I watched the one-two punch of Get Shorty and Out of Sight in theaters and wanted to find out where my favorite filmmakers got their inspiration. I spent the next few years checking out his work, but I didn’t read my favorite of his books, Bandits, until more recently.
That could go the other way, too; Get Shorty was one of my favorite movies when I was at an impressionable age, and it’s likely that a new adaptation could never live up to the original. Fortunately, this version of Get Shorty takes its cues from Fargo on FX and only follows the loosest outlines of the original story.
Instead of including a poor imitation of Travolta’s career-best performance as the eternally cool Chili Palmer, the show invents a whole new cast of characters, with Chris O’Dowd taking the lead as Miles Daly, who we first meet disposing of bodies with his partner, Louis.
Where Chili was a chill, genial presence, and only threatened obvious bad guys with a punch to the nose or some rough-housing, Miles doesn’t bat an eye at murder and dismemberment, and oftentimes seems right on the edge of flipping out. It’s kind of amazing watching O’Dowd, who usually plays more laconic characters like Roy from The IT Crowd, play someone so undeniably dangerous.
Ray Romano plays low-rent movie producer Rick Moreweather, and I’ve never liked him more. Everybody Loves Raymond made me want to grind my teeth, but Romano has done some amazing, nuanced work since then. His facial expressions here are a master class in acting, letting you see each individual thought go through his character’s head as he realizes what horrible new mistake he’s just made.
The show surrounds them with a murderer’s row of fascinating characters, which is definitely a signature of Leonard’s work. One of the benefits of television is that those characters get so much more time to breathe and develop. Sean Bridgers is especially good as Miles’ partner, Louis, a Mormon who doesn’t believe in premarital sex, but who has no problem killing people when they become inconvenient or annoying.
The show is hilarious, but it also feels darker than the movie or the book. The Travolta movie was pretty close to the book, from what I remember; they both have a breezy, satirical tone, and nothing truly horrible happens. The TV version is a satire, but it’s also a pitch-black comedy, willing to let its protagonist do much more terrible things that you could include in a 1990s star vehicle. Maybe it’s just par for the course with modern prestige television.
The second season just started airing on EPIX, and I’m tempted to add the channel to my cable package (which I only keep because it’s cheaper than paying for internet by itself,) but I may wait a month or two until it finishes airing so that we can binge it. Now I just have to convince more people to watch it so that it keeps getting renewed.