Edward Burns has been trying to make this story for years. A long time. The writer/director/star of TNT’s Public Morals told the tale in his book, Independent Ed. He’d been wanting(needing is more like it) to make this cop show that he could dedicate to his dad, a law enforcer when Ed was a kid. The Irish American cop/gangster film that the audiences hadn’t gotten a taste of yet. He tried with three different scripts. Stoolie, On the Job, and No Sleep Til Brooklyn. The money and studio never came around and the creative control didn’t arrive until Steven Spielberg met Burns and they became friends. TNT came calling and gave Burns full control. Here’s your canvas and brushes, go ahead and paint your dream show. Burns took the tools and ran. The result didn’t disappoint.
Public Morals is an old school kick in the head. An ode to hard drinking wise guys, cops and the women of the late 1960’s who tried to make them slow down on a night here and there. Burns is Terry Muldoon, the leader of a group of cops that act “as landlord” to keep the local hoods, rackets, gaming, and all low level activity on an even keel. They are the ones who bend but don’t break when it comes to their own moral code. The group includes seasoned actors like Michael Rapaport(back where he belongs after that Justified debacle), Austin Stowell, Wass Stevens(who looks cut directly from that era), and Patrick Murney’s Petey Mac. Their territory and jobs are threatened when Rusty Patton(Neal McDonough) comes back onto the scene, murders a gangster and sets off a turf war.
That’s all you need to know about the plot. Bullets are fired. Punches are thrown. Tons of threats are made and a ridiculous amount of booze is consumed. The Public Morals cast make Mad Men look like early evening hustlers when it comes to whiskey, beer and every other fluid that can be set on fire. Come for the dialogue, which hops out of this actor’s mouth like a jazz number and always lands smooth.
Authenticity is what Burns gets right with Morals. Everything is done right. The cars, bow hats, suits, walks, talks, weapons, and the overall swagger. Nothing is phony or done halfway. With a period piece to work in these modern superhero powered entertainment times, the little shows like Public Morals have to either transport us, thrill us or present some once in a lifetime acting. While the acting is solid and the story is familiar yet ripe for the senses, the authenticity of the dialogue and the look of the show elevate the proceedings.
You can tell Burns has been wanting to make this show for a long time. The tale came right from the man’s bones. It’s apparent from the first shot that this is no cash and grab job. Burns has never done that in his career so why start with his own show. He works when he feels there is a story to tell and because the man loves to direct movies. Morals feels like a small screen film being diced up into ten chapters and dealt out weekly.
It never hurts to have seasoned performers like Brian Dennehy, Robert Knepper, and Timothy Hutton sharing a piece of this gritty cake. Public Morals also employs a great selection of tunes to either lighten the mood or grind it to a halt when the action takes over. Burns doesn’t waste a single minute of his weekly dose of 51 minutes of crime here. Every moment feels thought out and invested. Take a look for yourself.
When you are caught up with all four episodes on demand, check out Burns’ book where he breaks down the backstory and buildup to Public Morals. It’s a special read from a special brand of storyteller. Burns is a renegade and always has been. Public Morals is his baby and it always leave me wanting a bigger taste of the action.