Saturday, September 25, 2010

So I Liked "Boardwalk Empire"

At League HQ, all Nations are welcome except Carrie.

A while back I saw an ad for "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO. Maybe five years ago HBO had the stanglehold on TV shows with short seasons, high production values, glimpses of nudity and people using the f-bomb, but Showtime has had its own programming for a while (I guess, I've never seen Dexter or Weeds), then AMC (of all networks) and FX got in the game. And, I guess, to a smaller extent, Cartoon Network and others.

To someone who grew up basically not feeling as if TV had much to offer that didn't feature transforming robots or a highly specialized strike-force battling a serpent-themed terrorist organization, these days, if you really sift through the chaffe, there's some good stuff out there. For example: Christina Hendricks Mad Men.

I think longtime readers know I'm not a Scorsese nut*, but I like the guy's work. Frankly, I hope he is involved beyond putting his name on the show. The first episode was ostensibly directed by Marty S., but I didn't really feel it except for a few moments. That's okay. What I'm really interested in is seeing Scorsese's feel for the expanse of time and the epic read of a character arc played out episodically over a few seasons.

Steve Buscemi as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson is an interesting choice. The show is basing itself somewhat on true-life crooks, criminals, politicians, etc... And according to the documentary HBO is running in connection with the premiere, its not actually clear that Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, the fellow who is the inspiration for Buscemi's character, was a true gangster so much as a particularly enthusiastic member of the East Coast Republican Machine of the time (see: Tammany Hall) and wasn't above using his position for profit. I'd expect that gray area is where Nucky's character is going to get interesting, and the pilot suggests Buscemi is up to the task.

Nucky Thompson doesn't tip

I was surprised the show went immediately for including such real-life luminaries of the underworld as Rothstein, Luciano and Capone, but, hey, it sets a tone.

I've never actually been to Atlantic City, and I have no idea how and where they're filming this thing, but as a period piece in a very specific urban area, the set and backgrounds when the characters are in exteriors (which I assume are largely CGI) are amazing.

Sure, it's only been one episode, but its a promising pilot as far as these things go. The pilot welcomes in 1920 as the temperance movement came to a head with the beginning of Prohibition, and explores how those with a mind for profit saw the new status quo as a golden opportunity before the law went into affect. The first episode sets multiple balls in motion from this single event as organizations fall into place, relationships are forged and tested, and the political machine of Atlantic City takes a step toward the shadier side.

Episode 2 runs Sunday evening.

Loyal Leaguers will note I've a fondness for the very wide category of gangster movies. Generally, I haven't been too interested in TV shows about ganagsters like Wiseguy, and I never had HBO during the period when Sopranos was on.  While I don't know what they'll be doing with the show, I do find the entire exercise of Prohibition such an interesting experiment in our concept of freedom as Americans, and, of course, the allegories one can draw to other and modern vices, it makes the "crime" story that much more interesting.
Due to cost restrictions, I don't think they've tried too many period piece crime or gangster shows (the only one that comes immediately to mind is Crime Story).  Its a gamble, but I think if they can retain the same level of detail from set design and costuming (heck Mad Men does it every week on a smaller scale), then they should be okay.

Seriously, will you look at that thing?

*do not dislike, which is what some numbskull will assume in the comments and I'll spend five comments saying "no, I like him fine, I just don't know his stuff that well"