TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire (HBO) Series Premiere

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by Rock ‘n Roll Ghost

The Making of Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire Preview

Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, Atlantic City's Treasurer, speaks to the women's rotary

Few show descriptions have made the hair on my arms rise just at the mere idea of how good they would be, but Boardwalk Empire did that.  To see the previews throughout the past several months have only heightened this an-ti-ci-pa-tion.  A show about Prohibition-era Atlantic City from The Sopranos‘ Terence Winter, starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Pitt with a pilot directed by the inimitable Martin Scorsese?  There was zero chance this thing could come close to being bad.

So did the show deliver?  Yes and (very slightly) no.  Once I accepted the fact that Scorsese wasn’t going to rip it up in the manner of his feature films, I settled in and enjoyed what the show had to offer.  Which, in all honestly, was what the previews promised.

It’s 1920 on the eve of Prohibition.  The United States Congress has declared alcohol illegal and the criminal underground is about to get their claws into bootlegging.  Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by the always excellent Steve Buscemi playing the series’ central character) is Atlantic City’s Treasurer as well as, for lack of a better word, a gangster.  “Nucky” does a fantastic job of playing up his public image while making AC a haven of graft and corruption for him and his cronies.

The meet arranged by Chicago for Nucky and Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein

Nucky makes a deal to begin bringing in Canadian Club Whiskey and selling it all along the boardwalk.   “Lucky” Luciano and Arnold Rothstein (played by A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg) are introduced to Nucky by Chicago gangsters (including Big Jim Colosimo).  Rothstein and Luciano both want to purchase cases of liquor to haul back to New York.  Nucky gives them a “sweetheart” deal of $60,000 (having talked the fisherman bringing it in down to $35,000) that the New York gangsters soon nullify by racking up $93,000 at one of Nucky’s illegal gaming halls.  It’s not a surprise that the hall’s manager thinks that Rothstein was cheating.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a Princeton dropout who enlisted for WWI and came back with a head full of horrors, is in Nucky’s employ as a driver, but wants more.  After meeting Al Capone (Stephen Graham) while the brokered meeting takes place, Jimmy comes up with a plan to steal the liquor.  Jimmy gets picked up by Agent Nelson Van Alden (the incredible Michael Shannon, here, so far at least, a bit muted) and offered a deal to become an agent to help bust up the bootlegging of alcohol.  Jimmy ostensibly doesn’t accept the deal,  but gives up the distillery in the local funeral parlor to keep the agents off of his robbery trail, which gets turned upside down by a deer.  With the distraction, Capone begins blasting away into the men they rounded up off of the trucks, bringing on a bloodbath and a chase to silence a runner.  When Jimmy opens up the guy’s skull, it really opens up, giving one of the many shocking moments of the premiere.

Jimmy Darmody and Al Capone enter into a fast partnership

Visiting Nucky after his speech at the women’s rotary, the married with two kids and pregnant Margaret Schroeder asks him for some sort of help.  Her husband’s a degenerate gambler, taking the little money they have and pissing it away.  Nucky feels real empathy and sympathy for her (which either has to do with his deceased wife or some other past family issue), handing her a wad of money that the husband soon finds.  Accusing her of being a whore and suspicious of the fact that Jimmy dropped her off, he beats her and bolts, taking the cash with him.  Nucky finds him at the same gambling hall that Rothstein jacked up the insane win and, in a fit of anger about him taking Margaret’s money and the aggravation about Rothstein, Nucky slams his head into a table and has him thrown out.  The gamblers scurry like rats to retrieve the dropped cash.  Margaret’s husband takes his humiliation out on her, beating her repeatedly with a belt, sending her to the hospital where the baby is lost.  Nucky’s Police Sheriff brother Elias has the husband picked up, taken to a boat, beaten to death and thrown into the water.  It doesn’t take long for him to get hauled up in the “Catch of the Day” for all of the town folk to see.

The boardwalk in Atlantic City at night - the kids should have already been carted off

It’s going to be a pretty amazing run of shows for Boardwalk Empire, I feel.  I held off watching the six episodes that HBO sent me so that I can watch the series unfold in all of its HD glory.  The pilot, directed long before the rest of the eleven episodes, is the tent pole for the rest.  All of the directors took their visual cues from Scorsese’s vision I’ve read, making for a seamless style and feel.  It often takes a few episodes for an established show’s new season to start to cook, so I can give Boardwalk Empire the time to fully develop.  I’m pretty certain it will all pay off extravagantly soon enough.

Official Boardwalk Empire Website

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