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Boardwalk Empire Is Pretty Good

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HBO spent $65 millions dollars on Boardwalk Empire. Yes, that’s right. Sixty-five million on a television series! They actually built the entire boardwalk of the title from scratch in Brooklyn, and worked hard to ensure that every detail of the show is authentic to the 1920s, when the story takes place. Although parts of it are fictional (the main character’s last name is Thompson, while the real-life man who ran the boardwalk had the last name Johnson), much about Boardwalk Empire rings very true. And the production values paid off, as the sets, costumes, and scenery are fantastic.

Sadly, however, I can only call the series pretty good. In the pilot, the plot meanders along, and much of the screen time doesn’t advance the action. The dialogue is fun, but not much is memorably quotable. Steve Buscemi does a fair job in the primary role, and proves he can handle a television show. I know it’s about time that he got top billing. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel something was lacking. It could have been better. Reviewers who have seen more than one episode have suggested that perhaps Martin Scorsese, who directed the pilot, is better at directing the big screen than the small, and future episodes with other directors flow better. I hope so, because this show has a lot riding on it, and I do want it to succeed.

I hope my opening didn’t scare you off from BE. There is much that is laudable, besides the setting. Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, the treasurer who runs things on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As the series begins, Prohibition has just begun, but Nucky is keeping the libations flowing liberally. He is also facing a bit of a crisis, as the world modernizes and he is a little slow to change with it.

The biggest threat to Nucky is his loyal but ambitious driver, Jimmy Darmody, played excellently by Michael Pitt (Dawson’s Creek). This week, Jimmy helped a very young Al Capone (Stephen Graham) topple the balance of power in Chicago. He gave a cut of his dealings to Nucky, but angered plenty of other people.

The third apparent star of the show is Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting) as Margaret, a love interest for Nucky. Clearly there is some deeper attraction for Nucky, something to do with his childhood and babies, that brings him closer to the pregnant Margaret, but his fascination with her continues after she loses the baby. Now that Nucky got rid of her abusive husband, I’m interested to see how the relationship develops.

Boardwalk Empire has eleven more episodes in the can, and will air Sunday nights at 9pm on HBO.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • That’s true. It is better than most of the stuff on television. And it was just picked up for a second season by HBO today, so what do I know? I am rooting for it.

  • “Sadly, however, I can only call the series pretty good.”

    Why is that sad? Most TV shows wish they could be pretty good. I also disagree with your assessment that the plot meander. It set quite a few things into motion as it introduced us to this world.

    “Reviewers…have suggested that perhaps Martin Scorsese…is better at directing the big screen than the small”

    Those reviewers don’t know what they are talking about.

  • I agree that much of the first episode was slow, but they need to first build and develop the characters and basic storyline, which I found they did a fantastic job in doing. I prefer mob dramas which are 75% drama and 25% action, and this certainly does fit that bill. This is just my opinion, of course.