Luckily, HBO decided to show the debut episode of their much hyped new series Boardwalk Empire a second time on the night it premiered, because with all due respect, I fell asleep in the middle of the first showing. I’m inclined to chalk it up to tiredness after a long drive. Others, remembering their grandparents snoring in front of the TV might be more apt to blame old age. And though I don’t really want to blame the show, I must confess that deep down inside I’m not sure the show itself didn’t have something to do with it. In the words of Lloyd Benson: Boardwalk Empire, you’re no Sopranos. Perhaps you’ll grow up to become one, but as far as episode one goes, you’re not there yet.
Set in Atlantic City on the eve of Prohibition, the show features Steve Buscemi as “Nucky” Thompson, a corrupt political boss ready to use the new laws to make a buck selling bootleg liquor at inflated prices. It opens with him making a hypocritical speech to a Woman’s Temperance group, just before he takes off for a meeting with his cohorts to explain how they can make a killing in the new era. Turns out, though, he may not be quite as bad as he seems when he helps out a pregnant woman with an abusive husband; he is a stereotypical villain with a heart of gold, although his ultimate help does raise some of the traditional questions of ends and means.
Of course I didn’t find out about his ultimate help until the second showing, because it was just about the time he gave the woman played by Kelly Macdonald some money to feed her kids that I fell asleep. Still, in a series that’s got booze and broads, gangsters and federal agents, big name crooks like Arnold Rothstein and “Lucky” Luciano and young aspirants to their thrones like Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham), you’ve got to think it will be bound to keep you from nodding off in the future. And in fact the last part of the show offered at least a dollop of the sex and violence that HBO series are noted for, enough at least to keep me awake to the end, and get me tuning in next week.