Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TV Show Review: Boardwalk Empire

Finally, a review not about a movie or book! HBO's show Boardwalk Empire recently wrapped up it's debut season. I haven't been this intrigued by a show's first season since Lie to Me. But one thing Boardwalk Empire has that Lie to Me never did was the ability to stray away from the mainstream production techniques and story lines. Set in the Prohibitionist era in Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire does an incredible job with setting, characterization and dialogue to make the viewer feel as if he or she is watching a legitimate 80-year-old story play out on screen.

Steve Buscemi plays the lead role of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the city Treasurer who has his hands in every aspect of business on the boardwalk. He collects dues from everyone, and heads a few illegal alcohol-peddling operations. Even further, his brother Eli Thompson is the Sheriff and can take care of Nucky's dirty work, no questions asked.

Nucky's back story is complicated, and we still never get a great idea of what exactly transpired in his past, but we get a few subtle hints as the season progresses. We know for sure that he had a wife who died and that he raised his right-hand man Jimmy like a son. Boardwalk Empire plays tug-of-war with the viewers' hearts and hopscotch with out minds. For example, Nucky can be a ruthless, cutthroat businessman one minute, and a generous, caring donor the next. It's hard to get a clear read on who they want us to believe Nucky is: cold-hearted, back-stabbing politician, or sympathetic, overwhelmed good guy.

Jimmy Darmody is basically his go-to guy for errands and "hits." Through Jimmy we get a very interesting dynamic with him and his own wife and child, his history in war, and his ties to Chicago and New York-based mobs. Behind the camera though, Jimmy (Michael Pitt - Funny Games, The Dreamers, Dawson's Creek) puts on an absolutely incredible performance. As far as quality of acting, he is definitely my favorite character. He has the vengeful, smart, yet charming mobster role down to a tee.

Nucky's love interest is Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald - No Country for Old Men) in a breakout performance. She also does a great job in her role as the single, immigrant mother who grows up more than anyone throughout the course of the season. It gets to the point where Margaret even stands up to Nucky, something that is unheard of by a woman in the presence of a powerful man those days.

Other great performances are made by Paz de la Huerta (playing Lucy Danziger), Michael Shannon (Prohibition Agent Nelson van Alden), Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein), and Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano). And a standout job by a directing/writing team that includes Martin Scorcese, Mark Wahlberg, and Terence Winter gives Boardwalk Empire it's realistic feel.

It's difficult to blog about this show without just wanting to type for hours, or spoil the story's best plot points for you. But what I can tell you is there is a bold mix of politics, love, sex, alcohol, violence and scandal that flows together perfectly in the show's first season.

If you want a gangster drama with great writing and even better acting, definitely check out HBO's Boardwalk Empire. I promise this isn't a cop-out or anything; I really honestly can not write much more without either saying too much or spoiling everything. But PLEASE believe me, Boardwalk Empire is worth watching. Check out the pilot and I know you'll be hooked! Can't wait for Season 2! Overall Grade: A

I know this is probably illegal, and definitely immoral but...-looks over both shoulders-...go here if you want to stream episodes on your computer:

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