Magical Realism has a dodgy history on American television, with more shows claiming to be part of the genre than successfully using it for anything more than the occasional flakiness. Key West was a successful, serious attempt to embrace this chimeric genre, an accomplishment all the more impressive in light of the fact that it managed a consistent strong showing in only 13 episodes in 1993 on FOX. It was well written, intelligent, slightly surreal with engaging characters, and a cast that meshed together with natural chemistry.
Naturally, with all that going for it, the show never had a chance.
The setup was that Seamus O'Neill was a factory worker who won the lottery and decided to engage his inner Hemingway and move to Key West to become a writer. However Key West, as the name implies, was as much about the place and its magical atmosphere as it was the characters inhabiting it. Like a lot of Latin American Magical Realism which takes cues from Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the place has a sense of existing in its own time as well as space, as seen in the ambiguity of its Arc Words: "The end of the world".
Episodes in which the magical realism is most visually apparent are "The Second Day in Heaven", "The Great Unknown", "Act of God", "Crossroads" and "The System", although virtually every episode in some way embraced the dismantling of everyday reality.
Its large ensemble cast — headed up by Fisher Stevens, Jennifer Tilly, Leland Crooke, Denise Crosby and Brian Thompson — was remarkable for its consistency and earnestness (Thompson and Tilly in particular).
- Based on a True Story: In one episode Key West secedes from the US. A similar thing actually happened - they even used the same name (The Conch Republic).
- Blind Black Guy: King Cole, the publisher of the Key West newspaper Seamus works at.
- Character Development: Even the minor characters, like the go-go dancers at Gumbo's bar, got some development time tossed their way.
- Cool Pet: Gumbo's pet alligator, Tickle Pink.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hector Allegria, the Cuban crime boss who runs sweat shops, wants to displace the poor to put up more condominiums for the tourists, has a piece of every dirty deal in Key West, who tried to own the Mayor on the first day she was on the job... and whose philanthropic interests include funding a center for autistic children, supporting the dolphin research center, supporting local businesses over the big chain stores, and making sure the island has clean air and water.
- Eccentric Mentor: Roosevelt "King" Cole, editor/publisher of the Key West Meteor. He realizes that Seamus O'Neil has "more talent in his pinky than the rest of us have put together", but also knows that the last thing Seamus needs is to have everything handed to him on a plate. He makes Seamus work for it, and teaches Seamus a little wisdom along the way. And if he happens to enjoy torturing Seamus just a little too much while he's at it... well, nobody's perfect, right?
- Fanservice: Lots of shots of girls in bikinis hanging out on white sand beaches or lounging on sailboats.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The already mentioned Savannah.
- Implied Love Interest: Seamus O'Neill and Savannah Sumner would flirt with each other in every single scene they were in together. And this was way above and beyond the normal flirtatious manner that Savannah had due to her being the show's resident Hooker with a Heart of Gold. Fans of the show assumed they'd eventually hook up. The show was cancelled before anything concrete happened unfortunately.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Brian Thompson's Sheriff Cody Johnson was absolutely one of these.
- The Lost Lenore: The major elements of Gumbo's backstory are based around the loss of his wife, Cee Cee, to a sudden and unexpected illness. In "The Great Beyond," Gumbo finally realizes that he has to move on with his life despite still being desperately in love with his dead wife. But that's okay, because Cee Cee still loves him, and understands.
- Only in Florida: If they tried to set a series like this anywhere but Florida, it would never get past the pilot episode.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Gumbo. When Seamus learns that his real name is Paul he's amazed.Gumbo: What, you thought my momma named me after soup?
- Pursue the Dream Job: Machinist wins lottery, quits to move to Florida and become a writer like his hero Ernest Hemingway.
- Ragin' Cajun: Paul "Gumbo" Beausoleil, owner of Gumbo's, a bar/cafe featuring a pet alligator, bikini-clad table dancers, and the best Cajun fast food in town. Gumbo was once a circus clown, but his love of the job was broken after the tragic death of his beloved wife Cee Cee (also a circus clown).
- Recycled Premise: Northern Exposure in Florida. One review called it "Southern Exposure". Also see.