(Boardwalk) Empire State Of Mind

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Ah it’s been awhile since I’ve updated in here, mostly because I’ve been buried in wintry weather and indulging in all manner of tv and movies, although I haven’t progressed much by way of my alphabetical movie-watching.

Starting on New Year’s Eve and concluding on Thursday, I spent my evenings watching the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire. As the cable channel’s answer to Mad Men, there were high expectations for this setpiece, especially with the dynamite cast they’d assembled and the glitzy era they were capturing. Since then, there have been uneasy whispers about whether the show really succeeded – specifically with the supposedly glacial pacing of the plot and character development, Steve Buscemi as a less-than-convincing half-a-mobster, and the less-than-subtle writing that tends to hit you over the head with ‘shadowed’ meaning.

I find my opinions of a show always shift a bit the more I read about it. Slate didn’t appear to have any commentary available, so I read Tom & Lorenzo’s fabulous blog recaps. T Lo was less than enthused about the show, at least compared to the lavish attention they heap on Mad Men.

In my own opinion, not being a seasoned HBO / Cable TV watcher (other than The Walking Dead, which I also enjoyed a mini-marathon of recently), and Mad Men), Boardwalk Empire is fantastic. I love Steve Buscemi to begin with, and it’s nice to see him sink his teeth into a role he seemed increasingly comfortable with as the series progressed.

I also love the intertwining of the three worlds – Chicago, New York, and Atlantic City. Too often, Mad Men can come off a little insular, so when a character visits say, California, it’s quite jarring. Here, the worlds are all quite interconnected and provide some of the most explosive moments of tension between characters. Rothstein, played by A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg, was quite possibly my favourite actor of the season – and without the NYC storyline, he might not have a place at all.

Margaret is definitely the proto-Peggy of Mad Men world. I always find her storylines and scenes the most entrancing, along with Nucky’s (Steve Buscemi’s) stuff surprisingly, because I don’t often enjoy the central protagonist quite as much. I also really enjoy Michael Pitt as an actor – he’s fantastic at toeing the line between angelic babyface and psychotic creepshow. The addition of Richard towards the end of the season was welcome, his lurking, wheezing presence adds a new level of creepiness, but also sympathy towards what the war did to these young men. Van Alden actually makes my toes curl for his awkward, stiff, zealot behaviour…but I give kudos to the actor that plays him. Tommy the toddler is also a major scene stealer. I was happy annoying Angela didn’t run off with him, I’ll say that much.

I didn’t find the problems the rest of the world had with the show to be that insurmountable to be honest. I recognize that Buscemi is an interesting choice for Nucky, but I think he pulls it off. Having the likes of Jon Hamm in that role would completely change who Nucky is, and I think Buscemi does a solid job of a smiling crocodile. The pacing was a little slow, but I’d prefer to use the term measured – I kind of enjoyed not flying through things, and really, each episode was generally set weeks apart, with the glimpses of action falling in line with the slow-boiling tension between the characters.

I think the series will only go upwards from here, as each character finds their roots and we do less expository background stuff. Plus we’re just dipping our toes into the roaring twenties and the rise of Capone – I can’t wait to see how things unfold, and I definitely have plans to read the book associated with the show!

- Britt’s On

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