September 27th, 2010
01:46 PM ET
It’s been an interesting week after the premiere of "Boardwalk Empire.”
With a cavalcade of new shows debuting like "The Event" (which is what, exactly?) and the rebirth of "Hawaii Five-O" (I distinctly remember asking the TV gods to bring back Jack Bauer, not Jack Lord), there's an army of us still wandering around trying to figure out what to watch this fall, and allegiances are being pledged left and right.
Well, the water cooler was certainly buzzing after Martin Scorsese's directorial effort in the "Boardwalk Empire" pilot, and word on the street sounds favorable from those who watched the show's debut. Judging from the response thus far, the crowd migrating to the show appears to be divided into three distinct groups:
First, there are the "’Sopranos' stalwarts" who had been faithfully waiting for something (anything) remotely resembling that "mafia family with the dysfunctional boss" storyline. They Googled "Terence Winter" and "gangsters" and thought the winning tree would bear fruit yet again.
Next, there are the "DVR/TiVo-types" who planned to give the show a try based on HBO's knack for making the mundane seem interesting. These folks believe the cable network that brought you "True Blood," "Big Love" and "Six Feet Under" could launch a hit show with great writing and clever production about the unique persona of paint, and how fascinating it would be to actually watch that paint "dry."
Finally, there are the "curious onlookers." Simply put, this is the TV junkie that sat down casually and said, "I've heard about this show, and I just wanna see what it’s about."
For each of these groups, “Boardwalk Empire” feels like the young phenomenon poised to become a star when it comes of age. Based on what I saw in last night's episode, here's a quick, handy guide of five reasons to fall in love with the “Empire”:
1. Enoch vs. "Nucky" Thompson
Steve Buscemi's effortless flavor of "smarmy" could be smeared on bread with a knife and enjoyed with a little peanut butter. His characterization of Atlantic City's treasurer is an interesting mash of the "poor-kid-who's-made-it-big" politician (Enoch) that dabbles in the seedy world of organized crime. Then, there's Nucky, the guy who sees the enormous profit in things people "can't have legally" as prohibition takes hold.
In the latest episode, we get a view of Nucky in his quiet moments as well as the ones in which he shouts loudly (and sometimes violently), and both are equally interesting and insightful. Buscemi dances between Nucky's worlds with grace and grit as each situation demands, and although he's a dark figure, Buscemi makes him shine – brightly.
2. The dawn of a new era
The show's space in time marks a crucial moment in the history of America. While prohibition is the main event, we get a glimpse of the twenties as a gilded age dotted with the ink of ruthless gangsters. We also get to see American ingenuity in things like Jimmy's "vacuum sweeper" gift to Angela after his big score. As the period was one of unprecedented invention and expansion, I'm sure we'll see more items we know and love that were the latest, greatest contraptions back in those days.
3. These aren't your dad's mobsters
“Boardwalk Empire” presents a fresh approach to the old stories about gangsters. Sure, we're familiar with the tales of Arnold Rothstein and Charlie "Lucky" Luciano. We've seen their mob fame and opulent lifestyles depicted a few times before, but the insight on their demeanor and meticulous methods of conducting business feels brand new in "Boardwalk's" context.
Viewers are also introduced to Al Capone as the understudy of Chicago mob boss, Johnny Torio. Historically, the Capone we've known was certainly a complex, violent figure, but “Boardwalk Empire” provides a fantastic look at the world BEFORE it was actually his. (With all this said, the show's writers had me at "Capone.")
4. Questions? Sure. Answers? Maybe.
So far, “Boardwalk Empire” has done a fantastic job of making the viewer ask relevant questions, while unearthing layers of the story to reveal "just enough."
We ask ourselves, "Why does Nucky care for Margaret Schroeder one way or the other? When will Jimmy's heist actually cause him real trouble? How far will Nucky push Arnold Rothstein? Why, exactly, was Big Jim Colosimo killed?" Then, we're spoon-fed some of the bites that will lead to the answer, but we don't get the full meal. The writers have done a nice job (so far) of alluding to things with clues as the plot moves on.
5. The drama
Two episodes into the show's young life, and I'm officially sold on the drama of it all. I enjoy the flow of the storytelling, and I think the show's got all the qualities of a hit series. The build-ups have all been solid, and I'm latching on to a few interesting figures (like Agent Van Alden) as we learn each character's value to the overarching theme. So far, the writing/editing has been clever, and I'm stoked for next week's episode after seeing the previews.
I think it’s still early, but "Boardwalk Empire" is on the right track. I enjoyed the latest episode, but I'm still in the discovery phase. For now, I'll enjoy the show for what it is. What do you think of the series so far?
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