Jeff Daniels and Diane Lane surpass the material in this fun but ultimately lightweight adaptation of the acclaimed novel.

PLOT: When Atlanta real estate mogul Charlie Croker faces sudden bankruptcy, political and business interests collide as Charlie defends his empire from those attempting to capitalize on his fall from grace. From Showrunner/ Writer/ Executive Producer David E. Kelley, A Man in Full is based on the New York Times bestselling novel by the late Tom Wolfe.

REVIEW: Jeff Daniels has had a career that includes acclaimed performances on stage in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird and on the big screen in dozens of dramas, as well as his iconic turn in the Dumb and Dumber films opposite Jim Carrey. To say the actor has a wide range would be an understatement. To follow up his brilliant turn in Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom, Daniels headlines the limited Netflix series A Man In Full, which has him channeling the most nefarious antagonist characters he has ever played. With an Atlanta drawl and a biting wit, Charlie Croker is an indelible addition to Jeff Daniels’ resume. With an equally strong supporting cast including Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, Tom Pelphrey, and more, A Man In Full is a solid series but one that not only pales in comparison to the source material but also to the performances it showcases.

Acclaimed journalist Tom Wolfe only wrote four novels in his life, including his debut, The Bonfire of the Vanities, which inspired the underwhelming film of the same name. Eleven years later, A Man In Full was published and did for the 1990s what Vanities did for the 1980s. In adapting the seven-hundred-plus page book for Netflix, David E. Kelley made some updates to keep the material relevant to modern audiences while maintaining the core narrative. The six-episode series follows Atlanta real estate mogul Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels) as his empire collapses before his eyes. Opening with an opulent sixtieth birthday party complete with a live performance from Shania Twain (playing herself) and followed by an interesting sex scene in a stable, the series shifts to the plot by banker Harry Zane (Bill Camp) and Croker’s loan officer Raymond Peepgrass (Tom Pelphrey) to take him down. As the series progresses, we see every snide and spiteful act between the warring factions as they figuratively burn Atlanta to the ground.

The main thrust of A Man In Full is the downfall of Croker, something Jeff Daniels plays with fire and energy. Equally strong is his ex-wife, Martha Croker, played by Diane Lane. While Charlie is remarried to Serena (Sarah Jones), he maintains a strong but adversarial relationship with Martha and her close friend and business partner Joyce Newman (Lucy Liu). Of course, things cannot be as easy as a court case to rescue Charlie as his billion-dollar debt battle comes at the same time as other challenges, including the Mayor of Atlanta (William Jackson Harper), who needs help from Charlie’s legal counsel, Roger White (Aml Ameen). Roger is one of the more interesting characters in this series as he represents the other side of the unspoken racial divide in Atlanta, which has been key to Charlie Croker’s business success.

By eliminating the majority of subplots from the novel, the series was envisioned as a more straightforward narrative about the core characters. However, it still remains a showcase for Charlie Croker. Jeff Daniels owns every scene he is in, and there are so many excellent performances here, notably Tom Pelphrey, Sarah Jones, and Bill Camp, that they would have received more acclaim if not behind the massive figures of Daniels and Lane. It is also striking that one of the key events from the novel is gone, but not one; two horse erections still figure prominently in the story. Take that for what it is worth, but A Man In Full still feels like it has too much going on but never has the chance to dive deeper into the meaning of it, leaving the series with a soap opera-like superficial gloss.

David E. Kelley returns to legal drama with this series after great success with Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers, successfully adapted bestselling novels. He blends the character melodrama of those stories with his prior network hit dramas The Practice, Boston Legal, and Ally McBeal. Like Ally McBeal, the characters in A Man In Full sometimes come across as larger than life while bordering on unrealistic, but Kelley’s penchant for dialogue keeps the series firmly on one side of that line. The six episodes were split between directors Regina King (One Night In Miami) and Thomas Schlamme. Regina King knows acting, which greatly informs her work behind the camera here, balancing the large cast of characters and varied subplots. Equally, Thomas Schlamme is a longtime collaborator with Aaron Sorkin on all of his series going back to The West Wing. A Man In Full definitely has a Sorkin-lite feel, which could be a compliment or an insult.

A Man In Full is a difficult series to review because the solid performances from the cast outshine the shallow material they have to work with. Regina King and Thomas Schlamme direct the series well, pulling Atlanta into the narrative as a character, but the lack of depth to where the story goes prevents it from hitting as deeply as it could have. A Man In Full wanted to emulate the bite and strength of Succession and Yellowstone but does not have enough satire to compete with the former or embrace the soapy melodrama like the latter. Jeff Daniels is equally on par here with Brian Cox’s fiery Logan Roy, but watching this empire fall is nowhere near as much fun. As a six-episode binge, I am sure audiences will have some fun with this show which has enough sex and face-slapping to entertain casual viewers even if it has two too many horse penises on display.

A Man In Full premieres on May 2nd on Netflix.

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