Saturday, September 24, 2011

Boardwalk Empire Comes Roaring Back

Last Sunday night the wonderful new TV series Boardwalk Empire which had 18 Emmy nominations walked off with eight wins including best director (Martin Scorsese).
And boy am I one lucky TV critic.
I've just watched the first two new episodes of this great series on a preview DVD and it's every bit as great and as dark as the first year's episodes.
To get it in Canada you must subscribe to HBOCanada but believe me there's nothing else quite like it anywhere else.
At the end of Season One Atlantic City's honcho and City Treasurer Nucky (Steve Buscemi) was battling a coalition of forces against him although his companion Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) did decide to return to him.
Battling him all the way is the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) who is arraigning all his enemies into a super force.
Season Two starts with real force as a gang of black bootleggers are involved in a pitched battle with a gang of Klu Klux Khan --and there are deaths on both sides. The scene is horrific with bodies piling up, blood spattering and the white supremacists even taking hits as they run away from the carnage.
Charismatic. That's the only word to describe these characters. There's the proud black criminal Chalky played in marvellous fashion by Kenneth Williams.
If the series looks like no other that's because each hour episode costs more than $5 million to make. And all the period details are just right from the lavish Atlantic City mansions to the classy whorehouse with the pianist languidly playing favorites of the clientele.
The very rich women sport all the appertances from the furs to the giant limousines. The men who are very rich have three piece suits and gorgeous tie. All the faux glamour of the era is well presented but peel that back and it's a sordid saga of the rise of big time crime due to Prohibition and the free sexuality that few writers of the time dared write about.
Themes continue to percolate: the racism of the time contrasted with the sudden freedom and the power that Prohibition gave outcast blacks. And there's the continuing corruption of municipal and state government and the culture of kickbacks that dictated huge payouts to politicians in power.
Real characters drift in and out of the sprawling narrative--Al Capone was the young, vicious punk the first season and early this year Arnold Rothstein makes his intentions clear.
The big theme is how much the Volstead Act which made the selling of any liquor illegal (including beer) totally totally unsettled American society. But it wasn't just booze, in the second new episode Michael Pitt's character is advised by the Rothstein gang to move into heroin.
Performances are unifiormly excellent. In the first few new shows we'll learn about the strange marriage of Agent Nelson Van Alden (played by Nelson Van Alden). Then there's the bold decision of Great War veteran Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). And Sheriff Elias (Shea Wigham) is ambivalent about loyalty to older brother Nucky.
I also like Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano, Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein, Stephen Graham as Al Capone. And Steve Buscemi has the role of a lifetime and is showing how great character acting can be endlessly fascinating.
In a tepid new TV season filled with remakes and clones of clones Boardwalk Stands alone as a must-see.
MY RATING: ****.


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