September 20th, 2010
12:53 PM ET
As a big fan of Hollywood's mafia stories, I've been in "mob withdrawal" for the past few years. The box office hasn't offered much since the release of "The Departed" in 2006, and television hasn't fared much better since “The Sopranos" ended in 2007.
Sure, there are a few store-brand crime dramas like "Law & Order" and "CSI: Wherever” out there, but they just don't move me, you know?
So if you, too, have been aimlessly wandering the wilderness of the multiplex and feeling around in the darkness of nighttime television searching for that new organized-crime "something" to fill the void, ladies and gentlemen, the search is over. The TV gods have hereby granted us "Boardwalk Empire."
The hype has been building for months, and the previews all point to a groundbreaking alliance in storytelling. Terence Winter, the executive producer/writer of "The Sopranos," and Martin Scorsese - who directed "Goodfellas" and "The Departed," to name a few - have joined forces for this project, and the result is a period drama dripping in elaborate detail the likes of which television has not seen (AMC's "Mad Men" notwithstanding).
I realize the gravity of such a statement after one episode, but I'm perfectly fine with making it after what I've seen so far.
"Boardwalk Empire" is set in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1920. The show begins as prohibition takes effect, and the central figure, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) immediately seizes the opportunity for outlawed booze to become the stuff his dreams are made of.
As the treasurer of Atlantic City, Nucky’s a brash, smarmy, arrogant figure, and his grip on the boardwalk is plainly evident from the show's opening moments. He's also got a grip on Jimmy Darmody (played by Michael Pitt), a World War I vet who does Nucky's bidding (and a bit of his own) to ascend in his operation.
Darmody's character is an impulsive, "What'd you just say?" kind of character that I was drawn to immediately. I thought his scenes were extremely compelling, and I'm officially invested in how his plight shakes out.
While the outlook simply can't be good based on what we saw in last night's episode, his alignment with a young Al Capone (played by Stephen Graham) is the "belle" of "Boardwalk Empire's" "ball.” The pair floated across sharp, clever dialogue with skillful ease, and I was very impressed with the delivery of the big lines and the minor details.
By the way, this pair's alignment is no accident. Capone comes courtesy of a visit from Chicago gangster Johnny Torrio, and shows up as Torrio's understudy. Meanwhile, America's biggest gangster, Arnold Rothstein (accompanied by Lucky Luciano), proves to be a thorn in Nucky's side from the moment he set foot on the "Boardwalk."
Nucky begins as a gracious host, but the new business relationship is icy at best. With that said, let's call Darmody and Capone's heist the proverbial iceberg that may sink a ship just setting sail. With each of these characters being set up quite nicely, I can't wait to see exactly how cold the situation gets.
I thought the first half of the show served as a thunderous "OK, here's who these people are, and here's why you need to care about them" segment, while the second half was chock full of gunfire and conflict. I also took notice of Michael Shannon's admirable performance as Agent Nelson Van Alden, and Kelly McDonald's portrayal of Margaret Schroeder was also noteworthy.
For a show premiere, the stakes were high, but “Boardwalk Empire” delivered emphatically. It’s always a good sign when the status updates of your friends on Facebook are aflutter with praise for HBO's newest gem.
The show seems to scream louder than the actual roar of the twenties with even the most minute details accentuated. The sets and scenery oozed period authenticity, and the empire feels colossal. From the Victor Victrola-like sound of the music punctuating every scene to the iconic billboards lining the boardwalk, it looked and felt like the dawn of a new era.
By the end of the premiere, I was satisfied and intrigued. The previews for next week's episode appear to be hot - somewhere in the temp range of "surface of the sun" - and it's official: I am SO in.
Loved, kinda liked, or hated the premiere of HBO's new series? Let us know.
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