Ranking the Shows I Watch – 20: Boardwalk Empire

22 Sep

I have mixed feelings about Boardwalk Empire.  First of all, this is certainly not the  most important facet to me of a television show, but it bears saying that Boardwalk Empire looks fantastic.  HBO should be commended for paying for such great production values for their dramas and Boardwalk is no exception.

Both superficially and not so superficially, Boardwalk has a lot in common with creator Terrence Winter’s old employer, The Sopranos.  The main character, Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson, is a man-who-runs-town figure who is also the head of his town’s (Atlantic City) organized crime family in 1920 as prohibition is about to begin.  As in Sopranos, he is thoroughly trained in the old school, but he on the brink of a new order, as prohibition means great opportunity for organized crime, but also allows for the quicker rise for a younger generation of mobsters who play by a different set of rules.  Micheal Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody, who was close to Nucky for years, plays what seems to be the Chris Multisanti role (thoroughly less insane, at least so far, and more serious, but bear with me).  Nucky, like Tony Soprano, struggles to bend and not break while melding some of the old school with some of the new, with plenty of even more conservative associates on one side threatening to end him if he moves too much in one direction, and younger change-oriented associates, like Jimmy, threatening over overtake him if he doesn’t, all while rival organized crime organizations smell blood.

One of the stranger aspects of the show is that a handful of major characters are real people, while the rest aren’t.  This gives Boardwalk a weird amalgam between real and invented, and we know a few things that have to happen – Al Capone is going to rise up in power, and should the show continue to run through prohibition, Arnold Rothstein will be murdered in 1928.  A mafia history devotee could have called ahead of time that Big Jim Colosimo would die, at the hands of Johnny Torrio.

The show is solid but it just isn’t seriously top tier.  It’s main problem might be that it’s not a lot of fun.  It’s a little bit stilted, and even though formula is all there, I just don’t get the unbridled joy and rush of excitement I do from watching a Breaking Bad or a Game of Thrones.  This could change of course, but, and I know I keep comparing it to Sopranos, but it really is a fairly apt analogue, as deadly serious as Sopranos could be, it was also often fun, and that aspect seems sapped from Boardwalk.  Maybe the lack of a Chris, or a Paulie Walnuts, or a Roger Sterling from Mad Men, hurts that, and maybe it’s just the feel of the show and that’s how the creators wanted it to be the whole time.  I wouldn’t mind it loosening up a little bit though.

Why it’s this high:  It’s high time Steve Buscemi got to star in his own show, and the production is beauitful

Why it’s not this high:  Try as it might, it’s not quite Sopranos, and it’s a little bit wooden – it feels almost like someone tried to create a color-by-numbers show in the mold of Sopranos

Best episode of most recent season:  I don’t remember a clear standout but “Hold Me In Paradise” because I’m a sucker for history and this is probably the strangest and most thorough crossover into historical fiction – parts of it take place at the Republican National Convention, particularly talking about the redoubtable Warren G. Harding, and Arnold Rothstein deals with fallout of the Black Sox scandal.

3 Responses to “Ranking the Shows I Watch – 20: Boardwalk Empire”

  1. Beardface September 23, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    I can’t even read this review due to your butchering of the main character’s name, which is Nucky. You are a disgrace to the blogging profession.

  2. Beardface September 23, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    You really shouldn’t let your infatuation with Limp Bizkit get in the way of quality journalism. It’s not 2001 anymore!

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