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Catching Up: Boardwalk Empire

HBO's Boardwalk Empire is a show that, on paper, has all the makings of a Great Drama. Its central premise revolves around the mafia dealings surrounding the bootlegging industry in the 1920's. It, like most HBO shows, has a ridiculously high production value. It has a terrific cast in Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly MacDonald and Michael Shannon, with scene-stealing moments by Michael K. Williams and Dabney Coleman. Its pilot was directed by Martin Freakin' Scorsese! 

So when it premiered in 2010, why didn't I get into it?

Maybe because, despite everything on paper, I wasn't immediately sucked into the Boardwalk Empire world the way I was for a Sopranos. Maybe because the hype machine surrounding the series could in no way live up to the reality of the series in general. Maybe because, despite being soundly competent in every way, there wasn't one show-stopping scene in the pilot that I could point to as being a "THIS!" kind of moment. Maybe because it is just too sprawling of a show to get fully immersed in after one episode. (Actually, mostly because we cancelled HBO after the third episode of the first season, but the above reasons are valid, as well.)

Now that we are HBO subscribers again, Brigitte and I have given Boardwalk Empire a second chance, and have made our way through the first three episodes once again. Though I still have some minor qualms, it is a series that I am getting to be fully invested in, finally. Here are my main thoughts on the show so far:

  • Wow, this show is ridiculously well-produced. I mean, wow. It's as if it takes the period elements of Mad Men that are well produced and throws millions more dollars at the production to make it that much glossier. If anything, I would be on board with a series that is just people dressed in Swinging '20s stuff and singing about how The Dumb Girls Know How To Make Love (episode three, "Broadway Limited".)
  • That said, production can't carry everything all the time, but after three episodes, there does seem to be some forward momentum in the plot, even if it's incremental momentum. Through three episodes, we know that Nucky is a guy who is powerful but has a heart, Mrs. Schroeder is afraid but sort of likes the attention Nucky is giving her (AND is totally adorable), Jimmy wants to make a name for himself, and Agent Van Alden is Nucking Futs. Like most serialized dramas these days, the wheels are just starting to spin after three episodes.
  • I love me some Michael K. Williams, but could he be a bigger anachronism? I get that it's crazy that he says the word "motherfucker" to Nucky and Nucky doesn't understand it, cuz it's the '20s, but is it just me or does he literally just seem like "Omar, But The '20s"? I mean, I don't have any issue with that cuz he's awesome, but so far he seems less like a character and more like fan service.
  • How adorable/heartbreaking was it when Mrs. Schroeder's kids asked when the new baby was coming? Sigh.
  • Agent Van Alden seems like he would be a good Crazy Dude Friend to Brother Justin on Carnivale. And they clearly should have tried to take the fat guy who got shot to Doc Cochoran in Deadwood to keep him alive (though the dentist office scene was pretty hilarious.) I'm always looking for HBO crossovers, though (like, HELLO, Will McAvoy's therapist on The Newsroom should CLEARLY be Dr. Paul Weston from In Treatment!)
  • What a difference watching Dawson's Creek makes in my enjoyment of this series. Michael Pitt went from the Poor Man's Leo to Dude From Dawson's Creek and made me enjoy his character a lot more.
Season three starts in September, so Brigitte and I have a lot of catching up to do.

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