Public Morals Review – TV TNT

There aren’t a lot of people who can pull off writer/director/actor in the first place, but among those who can pull it off, they need to find an exact fit. Edward Burns shot out of the gates with The Brothers McMullen 20 years ago, and he’s been trying to find the sweet spot again ever since, and without much luck.

His work mostly hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been great (though The Fitzgerald Family Christmas came close), and it has seemed a result of trying to make niches work when there wasn’t truly a lot of potential.

Though Burns only acted in Mob City, it apparently tuned him into a niche he could work with.

With Public Morals, Burns is back in the everything chair, and now he has exactly the right team with him, and though he kicks off slightly cheesy, once you get through the first fifteen minutes, everything else is gold.

The show centers on the “public morals” division of the NYPD in the ’60s. Terry Muldoon (Burns) and his partner, Charlie Bullman (Michael Rapaport) are kind of the big dogs of the inner circle that is this plainclothes squad.


Just prior to the show’s opening, everything was running along pretty smoothly for the group that, as Muldoon explains, “manages” the city’s vices. Once into the show, the plot is largely driven by a shift in power among the local criminal organization, and a new member of the squad that the group has to feel out for a while.

It’s a mix of mood and machinations that feels not only like Mob City, but the best notes of Boardwalk Empire as well. It isn’t just that the show delivers a wonderful period expression, and has a cast that feels at home (including Brian Dennehy, Neal McDonough, Kevin Corrigan, and several others), but it builds the tension of a system on the verge of collapse in a way that few shows have ever even tried. It has a subtlety of movement and development that reminds of some of the best gangster films of the 40s and 50s, often selling the mood best by the things that don’t happen, but instead just simmer on the sidelines of what’s actually on screen.

The show’s only difficulty is going to be keeping the level this high. Through the first few episodes (four of which will apparently be available to stream on the 26th), the show will suck audiences in, and will have them desperate for the next episode. But, things have to give eventually, because the elements that build the tension have to break at some point, and the show needs to develop a strong structure to keep going once the other shoe drops. It looks to be doing a great job, especially because it takes the time to develop a true ensemble (it feels like Mad Men in this sense), with strong characters that feel almost bizarrely real. This is especially refreshing, because “cop on the take” is such a ready staple of television writing.

If the show takes off the way it deserves to, it will be one of TV’s hottest properties by mid-October. The question is, will it be able to carry through to a second season that is as strong as the first. You have to ask that question, but if TNT is smart they will renew it before September.



Edward Burns writes, directs, executive produces and stars alongside Michael Rappaport and Elizabeth Masucci in this powerful police drama that will take viewers to the seedy, gritty streets and bright, seductive lights of 1960s New York.

The series centers on Terry Muldoon (Burns), an officer of the Public Morals Division, which investigates vice crimes in the city. Many of Muldoon’s fellow cops in the division walk a thin line between morality and crime as vice-related temptations threaten to snare even the best of officers, including Muldoon’s partner, Charlie Bullman (Rapoport). As Muldoon watches the Hells Kitchen streets where he grew up devoured by an escalating war within two factions of the Irish-American Mob, he becomes more determined than ever to fight back against the city’s dark underbelly so he can provide a safe place where he and his wife, Christine (Masucci), can raise their family.



Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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