‘Black Monday’ finds hilarity in the ’80s lust for prosperity
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It starts with a crash.
Followed by a crash landing.
And then we flash back from the crashes to the flashy cash grabs.
Try saying that three times fast — or instead, get your escapist groove on with Showtime’s “Black Monday,” a crass and brassy 1980s period-piece stockbroker comedy so wildly over the top it makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” seem like a Ken Burns documentary.
“Black Monday” opens on Oct. 19, 1987 — the day of the worst stock market crash in Wall Street history.
Someone leaps from a building and lands with a life-ending thud on a tomato-red Lamborghini limousine. We see close-ups of a gaudy gold watch and a distinctive tie-pin. Hmmmm, perhaps those items will come into play as the story unfolds!
From that jarring opener, we flash back one year. (Episode 1 of “Black Monday” is titled “365.” Episode 2 is “364” and Episode 3 is “339.” We’re counting down — or is it up? — to Black Monday.)
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It’s October 1986, an era brought home in SCREAMINGLY LOUD FASHION by the costumes, hairstyles, cars, fashion and/or pop culture references wallpapering every scene.
Meet Maurice “Mo” Monroe (Don Cheadle, clearing enjoying himself), a cocaine-fueled, adidas-wearing, one-step-ahead-of-the feds madman maverick running the 11th-largest firm on Wall Street — with his sights set on climbing that ladder all the way to the top. (Given the unsubtle albeit often hilarious nature of the comedy, it’s a bit of upset they didn’t just call this guy Mo “Money” Monroe.)
Mo has swagger on top of swagger as he blazes through the day, mocking his opponents to their faces and challenging his beloved rag-tag bunch of traders to keep on pushing, to keep on scamming, to keep on racking up the profits, no matter what the long-term cost. (Financially and otherwise. Hey, you can always find another girlfriend, another family, another job, right?)
I mean, this guy rides around in the aforementioned bright red Lamborghini limousine, aka a lambo limo, aka a LIMBO. It has none of the comfort of a traditional limousine and it’s too cumbersome to achieve the speeds of a Lamborghini — but Mo doesn’t care about any of that. The point is, he can afford the thing.
Every day on Mo’s birthday, his traders gift him with a huge packet of cocaine — even though he walks into the office every morning already jacked on blow. When Mo saw “Scarface,” he probably thought Tony Montana was a lightweight.
Mo’s firm is populated by aggressively obnoxious, sexist, boorish, trash-talking guys — but none of them is as tough or as smart or as talented as the lone woman in the bunch: Mo’s ex-girlfriend Dawn (Regina Hall, doing her usual fantastic work). Dawn can be as bawdy and crude as the guys, but she’s also the only one who can get Mo to listen to reason — or something approximating reason — and she’s the closest thing to a conscience in his life.
“Black Monday” is peppered with stock characters, but thanks to the sharp writing and the skills of the cast, virtually every one of them is intriguingly offbeat and, not incidentally, flat-out funny.
Andrew Rannells is the uptight protégé Blair Pfaff, who has created a revolutionary algorithm but is so naïve and trusting he might be swallowed whole by the sharks before he has a chance to shine. Casey Wilson is a hoot as Blair’s fiancé, one Tiff Georgina, who comes from money but swears like a linebacker and favors cracking Blair across the face to get him motivated.
Ken Marino plays the Lehman brothers, identical twins who sometimes speak in unison and come across as buffoons — which is just the way they want it so they can reel you in. Paul Scheer, Yassir Lester and Eugene Cordero, among other solid talents, make valuable contributions to the comedic salad.
At times “Black Monday” is too aware of itself and the time period, what with the jokes about Michael J. Fox, INXS, “Top Gun” and DeBarge — not to the mention a brief glimpse of Michael Jackson walking into a party. (Thank goodness, the “Michael Jackson” character doesn’t actually have a speaking role.) The jokes sometimes come across as having been written with the benefit of hindsight, as opposed to something anyone would have said at the time.
To be fair, though, that’s pretty much in keeping with the loose-and-fast personality of the series, as least as evidenced in the first three episodes. As a slice of mid-1980s Wall Street life, “Black Monday” is only slightly more accurate to the period than “Blazing Saddles” was to the Old West.
But just because something is over the top doesn’t mean it doesn’t have moments of being spot-on.
9 to 10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime. The premiere episode is available for free viewing now by non-subscribers at Showtime’s web, YouTube and Facebook pages, on demand and on many streaming services and devices.