TV Review - Boardwalk Empire (# 1.1)


Airs: Sundays at 9/8c on HBO
Genre: Historical gangster drama
The Set-Up: Atlantic City 1920.  It’s the dawn of Prohibition, and treasurer by day/gangster by night Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) has big plans to rule the city by selling bootleg liquor at a marked-up price.  Nucky’s got everything in place – ward bosses, the city’s respect, a local brewer, but his intricate operation is under attack before even getting to its feet, thanks to Nucky’s recently hired lackey, Jimmy (the faux Leo, Michael Pitt), who has plans of his own, and the always-unpredictable gangster contingent.  Martin Scorsese directed the pilot and serves as executive producer along with Mark Wahlberg.  The Sopranos‘ Terence Winter is the creator.
The Good: The production design and period detail.  The show cost $60 million for 12 episodes and it shows – every frame has something to please the eye – from the costumes to the Boardwalk set, down to the props and vintage automobiles.  This is one handsome television show.  The talent behind the camera inspires confidence, and the Prohibition time period seems ripe for juicy gangster drama.  It’s nice to see Steve Buscemi, character actor extraordinaire, elevated to leading man.  The Jimmy character is probably the most interesting so far – he’s a family man, but also an ambitious hothead.  He’s going to be one of those characters where trouble follows him wherever he goes.  Before the first hour is up, Jimmy is already sabotaging Nucky’s planned liquor heist and accidentally gunning people down. 
The Bad: Like other HBO shows, Boardwalk Empire is a slow burn.  I thought that with Scorsese behind the camera, we’d get some Goodfellas-type pacing.  Nope.  This was a looooong 75 minutes – let’s pick up the pace!  How many times are we going to see Nucky walk down the Boardwalk and stare in various shops for about two minutes?  I’m counting two so far….  And though I’m sure it pays off towards the latter part of the season, once you’ve had a chance to become familiar with all the characters, the show is a bit cumbersome to wrap your head around at first given the sheer number of characters being thrown at you and the relatively unknown actors playing them.  Buscemi, good as he is, lacks some of the charisma that Nucky probably needs to have.
The Verdict: Expectations were high on this one and HBO has been promoting it for what seems like an eternity.  It may not live up to the hype, but I think there is a lot of potential here given the subject matter.  I’m going to stick with it for this initial batch of 12 episodes.  The Wire was a slow burn too – each season requiring about six episodes or so before you fully commit.  ***1/2 stars.

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