Boardwalk Empire (Eps. 1 and 2)

Post date: Sep 29, 2010 5:21:46 AM

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter (wrote The Sopranos), and Mark Wahlberg, this instant-hit HBO show is lighting up the entertainment world after only two episodes. Heck, it was already renewed for a second season after the first aired on September 19.

But I don't have HBO, you say. What is it about? And what makes it so great?

I'm glad you asked. Steve Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, an Atlantic City public official who also happens to be in the business of running alcohol across the country in the Prohibition era, which begins in the first episode (directed by Scorsese). With a brother in the police force and all manners of local businessmen in his pocket, Nucky is essentially the king of AC. Like any king, he's not without enemies. Michael Shannon plays a straight-edge FBI agent who is literally more concerned with ending the alcohol production and trade in Atlantic City than with the whole web of graft, racketeering, and nepotism that fuels it. A tortured soul and devout Christian, he's made some minor busts and had some strong leads, but he still seems far from leveraging anyone into making a confession that would bring Thompson down for good. Also like a king, he's not without men in his employ that have ideas of their own. Jimmy (Michael Pit) is a soldier of Nucky recently who returned from fighting in the First World War. Embittered from life in the trenches, he has a difficult time living with the implications of being a trained murderer of the Lost Generation. When he meets another low-level crook from Chicago by the name of Al Capone, he begins to make designs on Nucky's $60,000 shipment to New York City. It's interesting to see Buscemi as a truly powerful man at the top of the criminal food chain rather than the low-level Mr. Pink-type rat he usually plays. It makes me wonder about why he was cast in the role. Is this an attempt to defy the typecasting he has received lo these many years, or will we see the desperate, weaselly Buscemi that we know and love in future episodes?

Which begs the question, does Boardwalk Empire have anything new to offer? It's a finely made show with a slew of great actors, an impressive mix of subplots, and handsome cinematography, set design, costumes, music choices, and overall style, but what does it give us that modern-era classics like The Sopranos and Goodfellas did not? That's difficult to say, and I hope that future episodes will reveal its unique genius.

For the meantime, it offers excellent storytelling and, perhaps, a reflexive look at the level of corruption in government, as well as the consequences of confining the consumption of a popular yet potentially harmful substance (in the 1920s it was alcohol, today it's marijuana) to the underworld rather than legalizing, regulating, and promoting responsible use.

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