Showtime’s Black Monday, from David Caspe (Happy Endings) and exec producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is a half-hour workplace comedy set in a Wall Street trading firm. The show is ostensibly about the events behind the Black Monday crash in 1987, the root cause of which is still sort of a mystery.
With as much talent behind the series, and incredible talent in front of the camera (Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells), plus the promise of a fun, alternative theory to a major financial event, I had a lot of hopes for Black Monday. In a way, the series — which aired its finale — became a victim of its own expectations.
The first few episodes seem to meet those initial expectations: Cheadle plays Mo, a trading firm owner trying to get ahead in a field dominated by white men. Hall plays his chief analyst, Dawn, and the woman responsible for much of Mo’s success. The pilot episode treats us to the promise of what the series could have been: Mo intentionally humiliates Blair Pfaff, a young trader on his first day at work, and frames him for possession of coke, getting him blackballed by every other financial firm in Manhattan. That, it turns out, is by design, because Mo wants Blair to come to him for a job after he runs out of other options. Blair is engaged to Tiff Georgina (Casey Wilson), the daughter of the owner of Georgina jeans. Mo has his mind set on running the “Georgina play,” an amorphous scheme designed to win control of Georgina Jeans, which comes with a host of Manhattan real estate properties. Mo believes he can do it through Blair’s relationship with his fiancee.
It’s a great con, and a promising set-up, but much of the next eight episodes is pure comedy filler. It can be funny, at times, but it has also spent a lot of time spinning its wheels, rearranging chairs as romantic relationships are teased between Mo and Dawn and Blair. A lot of it also involves keeping Blair engaged to his fiancee, which is complicated by the fact that everyone thinks Blair is gay, an amusing joke given the actor who plays the character, but one that also ran its course five episodes into this season (in reality, the straight guy, Paul Scheer, plays the gay character on the show). The show wants to mix comedy with drama, but Caspe — a sitcom veteran — never quite figures out the serialized elements.
And then comes the finale. Anyone familiar with heist films knows how these sorts of storylines work: There’s a plan, and then there’s a counter-plan, and then there’s the plan that took into account the counter-plan the entire time. In other words, there’s a big heist that’s being pulled off that the target finds out about, but while the target is trying to shut it down, there’s another heist taking place in the background in anticipation of the first one being discovered. There’s a twist! And then another twist!
The problem with Black Monday — and spoilers here — is that it forgot the second twist. Mo comes up with an elaborate scheme to run the Georgina play, only to find out that Dawn and Blair are running their own scheme, turning the tables on him. Much to the frustration of the audience, however, Mo doesn’t have a back-up scheme to account for it. In Black Monday, Blair — the target — pulls one over on Mo. Mo loses and the finale ends with Mo driving away broke and defeated, fired from his own trading firm.
Moreover, the finale pays off a season-long mystery — which character ends up plummeting to his death during Black Monday? — with another disappointing reveal. It’s Rod “The Jammer” Jaminsky (Bruce Dern), who 1) was already thought to be dead, and 2) is not even a core character. He’s Mo’s “father figure,” who makes sort of a deus ex machina plunge to his death just so that the series can answer a mystery that even Caspe admits they didn’t have worked out in the pilot (“the identity of the dead man changed several times over the course of the season,” he told THR).
It’s a frustratingly anti-climactic finale that fails to provide a satisfying payoff, that delivers a weak answer to a season-long mystery, and fails to provide an even remotely amusing alternative history to Black Monday. I’d almost be willing to forgive it, however, if it was a set-up for season two, but given the low ratings and the lack of buzz, that seems unlikely. It looks like Black Monday will probably be one-and-done, and ultimately a disappointing one-and-done at that.
Header Image Source: Showtime