Founder / Editor


Associate Editor


Assistant Editor











Let It Ride on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire": It's the Best Bet for Fall, By Far
September 17, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

There's only one new show, among all the offerings for the fall 2010 TV season, that has earned its place onto a must-watch list from the start -- and it's not a series from any of the broadcast networks. Instead, it's Boardwalk Empire from HBO, which starts Sunday night at 9 ET with the sort of opening salvo that promises great things ahead...


Boardwalk Empire, based on the nonfiction history of Atlantic City politics by Nelson Johnson, tells a story that is part truth, but a good part fiction, mixing real and imagined characters and events in the manner of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. For this HBO series, the time is the 1920s, the setting is Atlantic City -- and the central character is a local power broker nicknamed Nucky.

In real life, his name was Enoch "Nucky" Johnson. In HBO's Boardwalk Empire, his last name is changed to Thompson, but he's the same guy. And he's played by Steve Buscemi, who, as this character, finally gets the leading-man role he's so richly reserved, after high-wattage supporting turns in Fargo, The Big Lebowski and plenty of other films.

This is where I should get hasten to say that Boardwalk Empire is excellent, and comes supplied with impeccable credentials. Its creator is Terence Winter, an Emmy-winning writer-producer on The Sopranos from season two on. And the director of the pilot, and one of the series' executive producers, is Martin Scorsese, whose last TV work was on the PBS American Masters study of Bob Dylan.


And yes, the pilot LOOKS like Scorsese directed it. But later episodes, directed by Timothy Van Patten and others, look just as rich. Boardwalk Empire is a gorgeously produced, marvelously filmed period series -- and of the six episodes I've seen, each one, methodically and intriguingly, gets a little more involved, and a lot more intense. (The violence, in some scenes, is jaw-dropping -- but never gratuitous.)

I reviewed Boardwalk Empire for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and rather than repeat what I said there, I'll just provide the link HERE, so you can read and hear that review, and a few clips.

The essence, though, is that this is another of those series that both expects and rewards attentiveness and patience. It's like a chess game, where the opening moves are tentative -- but leading to a clear, nasty confrontation of opposing forces.


I'd also like to echo, in particular, my own praise for Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, the pregnant Irish immigrant for whom Buscemi's Nucky finds a soft spot.

I'm also taken by the no-holds-barred performance by Paz de la Huerta as Lucy (seen dancing with Nucky in the photo above that of Macdonald), the dim-witted mistress for whom Nucky has, uh, a hard spot.

Other standouts include Dabney Coleman, unrecognizable as the Commodore; Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire), proud and cunning as Chalky; and, of course, Buscemi, who, like Macdonald, will walk away from the other side of this Boardwalk as a major star.

By the way, Thursday I recorded a Fresh Air interview with series creator Terence Winter, which we'll play on the show before the end of the month. So, as they say, stay tuned.

And whatever you do, stay tuned on HBO for Boardwalk Empire. Let me know if you like it as much as I do...




Angela said:

Huh! No comments? I hope people will do so after it airs.

I added HBO for the first time simply for Boardwalk Empire. Heck I would have ordered it just to see Omar, (from The Wire) again. I could kick myself for not doing it sooner as HBO has my full respect for taking such a huge risk with The Wire so long ago.

Anyway, I can't wait to see this. Sunday is turning into a great night for TV. With that said, I'm calling it a day, and going turning on the TV.


Comment posted on September 19, 2010 8:55 PM

Jon said:

Awesome review
Can't wait to watch
Love this site btw

Comment posted on September 19, 2010 9:04 PM

Greg said:

Loved the episode.

The one performance that stood out for me was Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, Nucky's driver, who aspires to much more (dirty) action than simply driving Nucky around. Magnetic, unpredictable and with a ton of moody charisma, Pitt might just be the breakout star here. In a very strange way, I'm reminded of James Franco's early work in FREAKS AND GEEKS.

And what was up with the incubator store on the boardwalk? Really? I'm going with it but would love to know if that kind of twisted establishment actually existed.

[Yes, it did. Creepy, but true. Except it wasn't an incubator STORE, just a display -- like what you'd see in the window of an intensive care ward at a 1920s hospital. Except as a boardwalk attraction! -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 20, 2010 8:19 PM
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 Name (required)
 Email (required) (will not be published)
Type in the verification word shown on the image.
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: 
I loved your article. Boardwalk Empire is one of my favorite shows ever. What a surprise ending of season two! I can't imagine what this season will be like.
Jul 18, 2012   |  Reply
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: