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.