HBO was kind enough to send me an advance copy of their hit series Boardwalk Empire, starring Steve Buscemi, to take a look at.
I wasn’t sure how to approach this one, as I am first and foremost very much NOT a fan of the gangster genre. I appreciate the Godfather series as cinema, but they’ve never appealed to me, I couldn’t get into the Sopranos though I tried a few times. On the flipside, BE is set in the 20s (one of my favorite time periods), during Prohibition.
So I threw on the first episode with a little trepidation…
To simply call Boardwalk Empire a great television show does it an incredible disservice. The show has a gigantic cast of characters, all portrayed to perfection by their performers, a production value that would rival any film set in the same period or any others for that matter, and it is drenched in so much history – a number of the characters are based on actual figures that populated the underworld of the time.
Steve Buscemi is Nucky Thompson, running illegal alcohol, and ruling over Atlantic City. Season 3 begins 1 year after the events of Season 2, allowing a neophyte to the show like myself to be able to jump in quite smoothly. Not to mention that the blu-ray set comes with a 14 minute long catch-up of Season 2, which allowed me to familiarize myself with the recurring characters and then jump feet first into this new world.
This season sees the introduction of a new threat to Nucky in the form of monstrous thug in a suit, Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) who doesn’t like the way he’s treated by the Atlantic City kingpin and begins to maneuver against him before launching an all out war.
Wrapped up around these two are a nation of characters, Nucky’s wife Margaret (Kelly McDonald), his brother Eli (Shea Whigham), his mistress, beautiful young flapper and aspiring actress Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle), a brothel owner who knows Nucky killed her son, Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol, who I have crushed on for years!), her right hand man (and my favorite character), the scarred, masked Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), a cop turned man on the run, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and a number of familiar underworld names including Al Capone (Stephen Graham), whose name is on the rise.
The stories are massive, and even though running alcohol is good business some of the gangsters are looking to supplement their income by bringing heroin to the streets and uneasy alliances, and double-crosses seem to be the order of the day, as each one of these figures struggle to grasp power.
It could have been incredibly easy for a new viewer like myself to get lost amongst the storylines and figure out who knows who, and who’s doing what, and where are we anyway… but the blu-ray has a nice interactive feature, which I first put to excellent use on my favorite HBO series Band of Brothers. Here, it’s called the Boardwalk Chronicles, you activate it on the episode’s menu, and it allows you to learn about each character in a scene, where it’s taking place , as well as placing the episode in its historical context. This is a great device for those who are coming into the show fresh, or are eager to learn more about the events and the world that is inspiring what you are viewing on the screen.
And speaking of what you are viewing on the screen, the image on this blu-ray is amazing, and as I watched the series, I like the details one can pick out, the stitching on the costumes, tiny character details that the actors invest, and of course the scenery and the reality of this recreated 1920s. Simply amazing.
Despite the focus on character and story that is the driving force of the series, there are still incidents of bloody violence and brutality, never letting you forget the world these characters have chosen to live in. Each of these sequences is handled masterfully, with attention paid to making them jarring, There are no attempts to romanticize it. And I think that is something I like about the series, it knows what these people are doing and doesn’t attempt to glorify it, if anything they are showing how tenuous the existence these people lead is.
The third season is packed with characters, taking them in arcs I didn’t imagine, including Margaret’s attempt to help out in a hospital and get information about sex and pregnancy out to women who need it, Harrow meeting a wonderful woman, and oh the politics at work!!
The set is also well-rounded with other extras in addition to the Boardwalk Chronicles and the Season 2 recap, a number of episodes have smart and informative commentaries. The final disc in the set is packed with extra features, including a segment called “Newsreels,” which flesh out the historical context and characters featured or mentioned in the episodes – the researchers and writers for this show really do their homework.
There’s a look at the new cast members of the season, a sit down chat with series executive producer, film legend Martin Scorsese, as well as the directors from the season talking about how some of the season’s most epic scenes and moments were created from script to screen.
This is a smart, well put together set that reflects the intelligence conveyed in the series. I may never sit down and chat with the Sopranos, but I definitely see me revisiting Atlantic City and seeing what happens with Nucky and those who inhabit his world.
HBO continues to push boundaries with smart, engaging, and addictive television.
Boardwalk Empire Season 3 is available today on DVD and Blu-Ray (which includes a DVD set and Digital copy as well) from HBO.
What HBO series are you addicted to?