Are John Travolta's 'Get Shorty' Days Returning?


Movie star John Travolta being on TV had been a rarity since he starred on the '70s show Welcome Back, Kotter. However, he changed all that by appearing in the first installment of the anthology series American Crime Story in 2016 as Robert Shapiro in The People V. O.J. Simpson. As Travolta's 1995 film Get Shorty has been adapted into a TV show, his appearance as a series regular on FX could make it seem that Travolta is primed to return to TV again. Yet, Travolta appearing on the TV version of Get Shorty won't be happening because his character has been reimagined and is being played by someone perhaps even more unlikely than Danny DeVito.

Since Get Shorty is over 20 years old, a refresher may be necessary when considering the difference between the movie based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name and the TV show. The original film, directed by Men In Black's Barry Sonnenfeld, starred Travolta as Miami mobster Chili Palmer who heads to Los Angeles to collect a debt from B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). His brush with Hollywood inspires him to mix his mob business with movies, so Chili persuades Zimm to make a movie based on his own loan shark life. While a lot more goes down in the comedy, it ends with Chili getting his movie made with two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Martin Weir (the aforementioned DeVito) portraying the gangster.

Yet, the Epix series strays far from its source material when it comes to characters and tone, as Get Shorty showrunner Davey Holmes is the first to admit. "We've taken the premise of the novel, which is criminals who become interested in the movie industry initially just as a way to launder money but increasingly become involved in the artistic side of the movies they're making. Then we left the rest of it behind," Holmes told Entertainment Weekly. "None of the characters from the original are in the show, and the cinematic approach is more Coen brothers than it is Barry Sonnenfeld."

Instead of Travolta's Chili, he has been replaced by Chris O'Dowd's Miles Daly for the TV series. Miles is a Vegas-based mobster with a daughter and an estranged wife (and O'Dowd's familiar Irish accent). And like Holmes said, Miles gets into the movie business like Chili did, but that's about where the comparisons end — although you can still find some similarities between Chili and Miles, as well as between Hackman's Zimm and Ray Ramano's Rick Moreweather.


Holmes referenced the Coen brothers and so did Epix's executive vice president of original programming, Jocelyn Diaz, when speaking to Slash Film. "It's like Fargo and what they did with the television series, which is to take the tone of the original book, but it's wholly new characters. So it's entirely new. It's a different character. His name is Miles and it is fantastic," Diaz said. "There's that template but it's totally different."

Despite the significant differences, Travolta could eventually appear in a cheeky cameo if the show continued after its initial 10-episode Season 1. With Paul Sparks and Topher Grace popping up for quirky spots (the first three episodes were available to stream before the official Aug. 13 premiere), it's not out of the question. Yet, the Get Shorty that Travolta previously starred in and the Get Shorty that O'Dowd currently stars in are two very different beasts, so don't hold your breath for Chili Palmer to make an appearance.