‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO – Sundays, 9:00 p.m.)

From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of ‘The Sopranos,’ and Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States.

America in 1920. The Great War is over, Wall Street is about to boom and everything is for sale, even the World Series. It is a time of change when women are getting the vote, broadcast radio is introduced, and young people rule the world.

On the beach in southern New Jersey sits Atlantic City, a spectacular resort known as “The World’s Playground,” a place where rules don’t apply. Massive hotels line its famous Boardwalk, along with nightclubs, amusement piers and entertainment to rival Broadway. For a few dollars, a working man can get away and live like a king — legally or illegally.

The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City is the town’s Treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, (Steve Buscemi) a political fixer and backroom dealer who is equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role. Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, the town is a hub of activity for rum-runners, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a day’s drive from Chicago. And Nucky Thompson takes full advantage.

Along with his brother Elias (Shea Whigham), the town’s Sheriff, and a crew of Ward Bosses and local thugs, Nucky carves out a niche for himself as the man to see for any illegal alcohol. He is an equal opportunity gangster, doing business with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano, (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

As the series begins, Nucky’s former protégé and driver Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) returns home from the Great War, eager to get ahead and reclaim his rightful place in Nucky’s organization. But when Jimmy feels things aren’t moving quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands, forming a deadly alliance with some associates of Nucky’s that set the Feds, led by Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) on his mentor’s tail. Complicating matters further is Nucky’s burgeoning relationship with Margaret Schroeder, (Kelly Macdonald) a local woman in an abusive marriage whom he tries to help out. – HBO

10 out of 10

Apparently HBO has decided that they are sick of playing second fiddle to Showtime for having the best drama on premium cable. After watching the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire I feel rather ashamed. I feel like a crook, in fact. I feel like I robbed HBO of the $10.50 that I should have paid them to see this show in the theater. Because it’s not a TV show, it’s a Martin Scorcese Academy Award winning film that comes into your living room once every seven days for twelve weeks. There is only word to describe this monumental television excellence: Epic.

The grand scale and visually stunning aesthetics are like nothing that’s been on TV since 2001’s Band of Brothers. The pilot alone cost $50 million and it’s perhaps the best $50 million spent on a television series ever. The sets are absolutely amazing and the level of detail is like none I’ve ever seen for a period piece outside of Titanic. There really is no question that you are in Atlantic City circa 1920 and this show does what I’ve pointed out that other quality dramas do and that is make the city as integral of a character as the politicians and gangsters.

The story and depth of characters are rich and engaging and you’re hooked from the opening scene and the role of “Nucky” Thompson… well, let’s just say the Steve Buscemi was born to play him.

Thompson is the epitome of the corrupt community leader for the prohibition era. He’s an institutionalized pillar of the community and gangster rolled into one. He’s the city treasurer who has built his power through graft and payoffs and is the most powerful man in town, controlling the police department and mayor’s office who hang on his every order. Like most crooked politicians in bed with organized crime he views as himself as morally superior to the gangsters he regularly does business with and he does his best to keep them at arm’s length. This is very interesting to note about his personal character because unlike most corrupt politicians, he truly does care for the citizens of his community and goes out of his way to help those who need it the most with no ulterior motives and his magnanimous attitude and tenderness isn’t out of guilt. As crooked as his empire his, he truly is a man of the people and believes in the virtue of public service. This dichotomy presents itself often as there appears to be a perpetual internal conflict between the noble and the nefarious going on inside of Nucky.

One of the more notable exchanges is between Nucky and his protégé, Jimmy, where he tells Jimmy, “You’d be very foolish to underestimate me, James.  I could have you killed,” right after he lectures him as a father would about going back to school and making something of himself for his wife and son. But, it’s how he says it that’s interesting… it’s kind of like that he has to convince himself that he could have Jimmy killed and he isn’t really comfortable with the idea even though we all know it’s true, he could, but still, we don’t buy it. Jimmy doesn’t buy it either as his classic response indicates while at the same time serving to polarize Nucky’s internal conflict.  “Yeah, but you won’t. Look… you can’t be half a gangster Nucky… not anymore,” and THAT is what Boardwalk Empire is all about.

It’s about how Prohibition changed this country during an era of excess. It’s about our own good and dark sides squaring off.  We see the likes of Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Al Capone as small time hoods, who we all know will become kings over the next ten years and rule their particular kingdoms through violence and terrorism but what’s often forgotten is that it was the average citizen that made that reign possible.  It’s a part of our collective history as Americans that hasn’t been told before and Boardwalk Empire shines a spotlight on it.

Boardwalk Empire is going to be one helluva journey. This is the best show on television… period, and yes, it only took one episode to figure it out.

Official Boardwalk Empire show site, here.

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About Shawn P. O'Halloran

Shawn is a married, 36 year-old father of three originally from Rochester, New York and has lived in Las Vegas, Nevada for nine years, now. Aside from being a huge fan of movies and television, he's a huge fan of Sci-Fi and in particular, Star Trek. Shawn's cousins, Matt & Brian Volke run the The Movie Brothers blog here on Wordpress and occasionally, he's been known to post a review or two.
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7 Responses to ‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO – Sundays, 9:00 p.m.)

  1. William says:

    Nice write-up brother!

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