Hey, do you want to see Don Cheadle do a ton of cocaine and karate-kick doors open in an 80s-set Wall Street premium cable comedy that was created by one of the minds behind Happy Endings and has a series premiere that was directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also serve as executive producers? If you do, Black Monday premieres on Showtime this Sunday and it is all of those things. Bingo bango, review over.
Wait. Crap. I’m being told that I can’t just turn this in and count it as a review. Okay, fine. Fine. We’ll get all into then, I guess. Ugh.
Black Monday is a new Showtime comedy created by David Caspe and Jordan Cahan. It stars Don Cheadle as Maurice “Mo” Monroe (aka Mo the Marauder aka “the Billy Ocean of trading”), head of a Wall Street chop shop named The Jammer Group that is living the cocaine-fueled high life of the pre-crash 1980s. That’s the main theme here: the action on the show picks up one year before the real Black Monday stock crash of 1987 and purports to explain — fictionally, in its own universe — how that happened.
There’s a fair amount of good, so let’s start with the positives. The cast is very good, starting with Cheadle’s energy as the mostly amoral trader who, yes, loves drugs and flashy things. (He rides around town in Lamborghini limousine that he calls “the Limbo,” which has a license plate that reads LIMBO1 and raises the important question of who beat him to the straightforward LIMBO plate.) His number two — also the former flame he still has feelings for — is Dawn Darcy, played by Regina Hall. Hall is excellent in a role that requires a lot of lifting: she’s the conscience of the show, but also the only one who can take on Mo, but also the Chief Ballbuster in a testosterone-soaked office. A different (possibly better) show could just focus on her navigating the Wall Street frat party atmosphere.
The rest of the cast is solid, too. Andrew Rannels plays Blair Pfaff, a nerd with an algorithm who is married to a wealthy woman played by Casey Wilson. Ken Marino pops up in a dual role as actual twin Lehman brothers. The Jammer Group is littered with your favorite comedy-types: Paul Scheer, Horatio Sanz, etc.
Also, it’s fast. Hoo boy, is it fast. Jokes come non-stop from a bunch of angles, sometimes focused on NBA basketball, which should surprise exactly no one who watched Caspe’s previous shows, Happy Endings and Marry Me. There’s one in the second episode about searching for a white person at any restaurant that has “a turkey sandwich to die for” that made me gasp from its humor and accuracy.
Now, on the flip side, the tone of the show can seem a little off at times. The jokes are often crude and sharp-edged in a way that can feel occasionally cringe-worthy. They also feel a bit forced in places, like someone took a network sitcom script and spiced it up on the fly. (“Call someone a name! Make a gay joke! This is the 80s, people still did that!,” I picture an executive shouting into a phone.) There’s nothing wrong with a show being filthy or mean —Big Mouth is much filthier and Succession is much meaner — as long as you do so in service of the story, and some things here feel off, at least in the early going.
Additionally, this show wants you to remember it’s set in the 1980s. The references are as subtle as a sledgehammer and, in places, appear to be substituted for actual punchlines. Yes, there’s a Crystal Pepsi mention. Yes, someone jokes about smoking crack with Marion Berry. Yes, there is a sight gag involving a large cell phone. It’s a bit much.
So, really, the question with Black Monday is this: Are the issues I mentioned fixable or are they just ingrained in its DNA? Comedy is hard, man. Finding the right tone and flow can take a while. I can see why there’s a push early on to be extra crass (establish the cutthroat nature of a high-pressure Wall Street trading firm) and to push the setting (get those 80s jokes in while you can) but things are going to have to settle into a groove pretty quickly for this to be more than a collection of good jokes and Don Cheadle and Regina Hall carrying the show by sheer will. I hope it does. There’s a really fun show in here potentially. I’m going to stick around for a while to see if they find it.
‘Black Monday’ premieres on Showtime this Sunday, January 20, at 10 pm EST.