After retro-font versions of the Showtime logo and the show’s title, “Black Monday” opens with a short scene on the day of the crash: paper-strewn Lower Manhattan streets, a man with his head in his hands, a body plummeting from a height into a Lamborghini limousine. (If it’s not meant to suggest 9/11, it’s quite a coincidence; if it is, it fits with an overall harsh glibness reflected in a later joke about Michael Hutchence and autoerotic asphyxiation, or references to “Jew lawyers” and “Jew church” and a line like “You just holo-cost me my job.”)
Then the action jumps back a year, to October 1986, and we’re told that we’re going to learn why Black Monday happened. This will somehow involve Mo, founder of an upstart, outsider firm called the Jammer Group; his top trader and ex-lover, Dawn Towner (Hall); and Blair Pfaff (Rannells), a Bambi-like innocent who’s developed a revolutionary robo-trading algorithm.
The main thread of the story, so far, involves Mo’s elaborately planned entrapment of Blair, who ends up working at the Jammer Group when his loftier prospects fall through. Surrounding this are Mo’s risky play involving a jeans company and Lehman Brothers (portrayed as actual twin brothers, played by Ken Marino); the browbeating Blair takes at home from his spoiled wife (played by Casey Wilson, Caspe’s wife and a “Happy Endings” alum); and Dawn’s domestic life with her husband (Kadeem Hardison), a condescending surgeon.
The three leads do the best they can with their stock characters. Cheadle can do comically menacing braggadocio as well as anyone, and he’s perfectly convincing here, but the writing doesn’t give us much reason to care about Mo — his drives to make money and consume cocaine are surface attributes, like Cheadle’s obviously artificial Afro. (His business decisions, and the show’s depiction of the financial world in general, are distractingly illogical, even for a satirical comedy.)
Blair is just as one-note, befuddlement mixed with exasperation, though Rannells has slightly funnier material. Hall gets a little more to play; she’ll draw the audience’s sympathy, because she’s playing the only character you’re likely to make a connection to — but being Mo’s and the show’s guilty conscience is no bargain.