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“Boardwalk Empire” Premiere Review

Posted by CJ Cregg on September 20, 2010

Much tamer during the day

Welcome to the world of vice, gild, and music.  (And, because it’s HBO, boobs and gore too.)

This is Atlantic City in 1920, and it is a roaring good time.  Oh yes.  The roaring 20s can roar all right.

Prohibition has just started, and Atlantic City’s treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), is looking to make a buck.  The best way to do so in dry America?  An underground booze-supplying operation.  We see him making deals with some Chicago-based Italians and laying the groundwork for an epic money-making plot.  Undoubtedly corrupt, Nucky one minute weaves fake tales of a childhood of poverty in front of the Ladies Temperance League and then, in a cigar-filled backroom, toasts with the mayor and the City Council to the skyrocketing prices Prohibition will surely create.  Surrounded by his band of thugs, one in particular stands out.  Nucky’s driver, Jimmy Darmody, is a smart young man just back from the war, seeking a better life for his family.  His jealousy is displayed and loyalty is tested when offered a job in the FBI to help nab Nucky.  Loyalty seems to carry the day when he tells Nucky, “You can’t be half a gangster anymore.”  This after carrying out a somewhat disastrous operation to get more booze for Nucky to sell.  But hey.  You gotta love a man with initiative.  But somehow, I doubt we’ve seen the end of this struggle of Jimmy’s.

Corruption aside, Nucky isn’t all bad.  He goes out of his way to help an immigrant woman struggling with money and an abusive husband.  Just who he’ll turn out to be isn’t clear from the pilot, but Steve Buscemi is fantastic as this character.  He’s riveting and utterly believable.  I just hope we learn more about who this character is and where the soft spots in his heart lie as the episodes progress.

Like I said, the roaring twenties can roar.  And this pilot is LOUD.  I think showy is the best word for it, really.  It’s a colorful world with

Jimmy with a young Al Capone

awesome big band music run by the back room boys’ clubs.  In one representative scene, a huge ballroom of partygoers count down to Prohibition in a New Years’ Eve style.  At the stroke of midnight when Prohibition officially begins, the big band plays “Taps” in mourning of John Barleycorn.  (Complete with coffin.)  A few seconds later, the jumping dance party breaks back out as high heels, flapper dresses, and feathers fly everywhere.  (This pilot also features midget boxing and a healthy dose of vaudeville.)

But at times, I felt like the showiness of the pilot slowed down the plot.  Sometimes throughout, the 72 minute episode seemed to plod along.  To be honest, it just wasn’t that interesting of an episode.  Granted, a lot of foundation was laid down for future plotlines, but this pilot was, to be perfectly frank, nothing to write home about.  This is a show that’s going to be driven by the wheeling and dealing of gangsters, so make sure you follow the dialogue.

It was a decent pilot, but to keep me watching, Boardwalk Empire simply needs to pick up the pace.

Grade: B


2 Responses to ““Boardwalk Empire” Premiere Review”

  1. Mr. Feeny said

    I definitely enjoyed this pilot. Scorsese’ direction clearly shone through, with every nuanced shot and extended sequence. Beautifully created for the screen. And you can’t tear me away from the 1920s. My second favorite 20th century decade. I did think it was a little overkill, though. They threw just about every 20s cliche you possibly could into those 80 minutes.

    I agree that Buscemi’s a fantastic actor, but I wasn’t convinced with him as the leader of this corruption. He just seems like a supporting character (thanks partly to his past roles, partly to his physicality). But I do enjoy watching him. You can’t really turn away.

    I’m surprised you think they need to pick up the pace. I thought the action was non-stop. And the plot just kept humming along. If anything, it spent so much time on the plot that we didn’t really get to know any of the characters. Even what we know right now of Nucky is very basic. But I don’t feel for any of the characters, and I’m not sure what the point of the show is. Where are they going?

    All those complaints aside, I really enjoyed the premiere. It’s so true to form and so well-acted that it’s hard not to find it compelling and entertaining. I’ll keep watching it…as long as I can find it…

    Grade: A-

  2. Marlo Stanfield said

    I have to agree with Feeny here. This show is outstanding and I thought it was one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen.

    Scorsese’s direction was clearly at play here, and what a beautifully shot show. I have doubts of how long it can last though – what do you think the price tag on the pilot was?

    It’s also chock full of some of my favorite actors – Buscemi, of course, but let’s not forget about Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon, both incredible actors who will be recognized again and again in the next decade. I actually really liked Buscemi in this role – you need someone slimy enough to pull it off, and he has plenty of ooze to go around.

    I don’t expect a pilot to answer too many questions about the characters. I was much more confused at the end of the first episode of The Wire, and, well, we know how that one ended up.

    Grade: A

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