Friday, February 03, 2012
HBO has a reputation for producing quality, cinematic television and BOARDWALK EMPIRE is a perfect example of this. Set in Atlantic City during the prohibition era, the show focuses around the city treasurer, one Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, played with great weight and resolve by Steve Buscemi. Often relegated to showy, albeit still mere, character roles, it is incredible to see Buscemi take the lead in this series and to see him do so with such impressive strength. He leads an ensemble made up of actors who are often not given their due, from Michael Pitt and Michael Shannon to Kelly McDonald and Michael Stuhlbarg. Altogether, they make up one of the most dynamic and effective ensembles on television today.
The first season, now available to rent or own on either DVD or Blu-ray, consists of twelve addictive installments. The series itself was created by Terence Winter, one of the main writers on another HBO gem, THE SOPRANOS, but the pilot episode itself, which reportedly cost $18 million to make, was directed by none other than Martin Scorsese. Scorsese, who also serves alongside Mark Wahlberg as an executive producer, is the Godfather of gangster cinema (sorry, Francis) and his gravitas anchors the series from the very beginning, allowing it to go to places that are often shocking and moving. The first season, based on the Nelson Johnson novel, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, follows Nucky as he gets his bootlegging business off the ground, falls for a recent widow (McDonald) and struggles to ensure the Republican party, the one he controls from behind the scenes, remains in power. It is at times uncanny how some of the issues people wrestled with then are still prominent today.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE presents the golden age of gangstering and it does so with such class and subtlety that it burns directly into your mind, leaving you wanting to get back to that boardwalk as often as possible. If more television series took as much care with their stories and characters as this one does, I think its fair to say I would have a lot less free time on my hands.