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Series debut: Boardwalk Empire Sunday on HBO Canada

In television on 09/19/2010 at 2:22 pm

Series name
Boardwalk Empire

Debuts
Sunday, Sept 19, 2010 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Canada

Regularly airs
Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Canada

Premise
In Atlantic City, whores are whoring, dance halls are hopping, a young Princeton-educated lad has returned from the war and in a separate social circle a battered Irish wife is campaigning for deliverance via the Women’s Temperance League. All this on the eve of Prohibition, amid gangsters rubbing their hands with glee at cornering the market on booze. Among them Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, whose cover is his position as city treasurer and the moving story he tells the ladies of the league. Is it a true story of childhood hardship? Thompson is slick enough to draw tears. But there is liquor to deliver and deals to strike with Chicago and New York. And on the other side of the law is Nelson Van Alden, a very religious agent of the Department of Internal Revenue. VERY religious, with the beads to prove it. There is a lot more going on, but that’ll get you started.

Primary cast and crew
Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, The Sopranos, The Big Lebowski) is Nucky Thompson, politician and crook.

Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, No Country for Old Men) is Margaret Schroeder, whose shiner is not really well-enough covered as she asks Mr. Thompson for a job for her no-good gambling drunk of a husband. Be careful what you ask for Mrs. Schroeder.

Michael Pitt (Funny Games, Murder by Numbers) is Jimmy Darmody, who’s come back from the Great War with a bum leg and a drive to move up in Thompson’s organization.

Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Jonah Hex) is Agent Nelson Van Alden, protector of the right.

Dabney Coleman (Tootsie, The Guardian) is Commodore Louis Kaestner, Thompson’s mentor.

Stephen Graham (Snatch, Band of Brothers) is Al Capone, up and comer on the Chicago scene. Shows great promise. Not terribly loyal.

Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) is Chalky White, gangster, head of the black community and owner of some very ouchy carving tools.

Buzz buzz
Martin Scorsese directed the $20-million pilot and is among the exec producers, who also include Mark Wahlberg (Entourage, In Treatment). With this kind of weight, can it be anything but gorgeous and genius?

But what do I know anyway? After having seen five episodes, I predict…
Gorgeous? Absolutely. But I’m having a hard time getting as hooked as are most real TV critics. The pilot is wow, with Scorsese’s signature flourishes, but there are also scenes that run to comic extremes that at least seem for their own sake and beside the point (a cowboy sex scene with Thompson and his ex-showgirl moll, the incompetence of his valet and a who’s on first routine between Van Alden and an incredibly stupid fellow agent, to name a few). After watching five episodes, I also have a hard time pinning down some of the characters. In the pilot, Capone is thoughtful and Darmody is a thug, Thompson is a liar and a crook with a sharp vision. Then characters transform without explanation or context. And sometimes transform back. I don’t see a heart to the show. Or a reason to see it through to the twelvth episode.

Other reviews

Clearly, I am not seeing something that everyone else is: Metacritic has rounded up major reviews and found an average approval rating of 90 out of 100.

Official website
Much has been made of the lavish Atlantic City set and especially the boardwalk. The official site has a tour, complete with links to, such as featurettes on the music of the time. Although even I am tiring of my crankiness toward this poor series, I found the tour cumbersome and not worth sitting through.

Facebook

Wondering when the other new series and returning series are kicking off?
Click here for my select list of fall 2010 premieres and other important dates. Who am I to tell you what to do, but you could consider bookmarking it…

— Denise Duguay

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