Boardwalk Empire’s debut

Just managed to watch the first episode from HBO’s new series – Boardwalk Empire. The first episode, at a full one hour and twenty minutes, could have been a brilliant standalone movie, so only God knows how good the rest will be. This is in no small part thanks to the fact that was directed by none other than Martin Scorcese – who backed the project and might even direct more episodes in the future. The great news is that, following the success of the premiere, the second season has already been approved.

In a nutshell, the series will follow the lives of people who benefited most from The Prohibition in the USA in the 20s. By outlawing alcohol, the Government increased its value greatly without reducing demand in any way. The result should have appeared to be pretty obvious from the beginning – people kept on drinking but crime lords could make giant profits off a new substance.

The major characters seem to have been introduced in this episode, and even though there is quite a vast cross section of social strata represented, it seems to be closer to The Sopranos than The Wire in terms of breadth. It concentrates on one character – Nucky Thomson who was a politician and crime lord in Atlantic City, played by Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Sopranos, Reservoir Dogs). The first episode drops us on the first day of prohibition and Nucky (who really existed) is already looking to make the best of the new situation.

My favourite character from The Wire (Michael K. Williams AKA Omar Little) is back with a role in this series, even though his part was very minor in the first episode. I hope it grows in importance as the show progresses.

I also think Boardwalk Empire is an exciting prospect for another reason – it promises to offer a very good depiction of what life was like at the time. No expenses were spared when preparing the set and the research that went into it left no stone unturned. Whereas a movie must get straight into the story, a series can afford to give more than just a glimpse of what life is like in a particular situation which is why so much more work must go into finding out as much as possible about the everyday lives of the people involved.

Finally, just like some of TV’s favourite characters of late, Nucky is not a straightforward person to understand. In a somewhat similar way to Tony Soprano he can love and hate with equal measure and even though everything seems to be a business decision to him, he does display a softer side which I suspect might eventually lead to his downfall. These are highlighted in the first episode when he helps out a pregnant woman who is the victim of domestic abuse, when he stops to stare at a baby in an incubator (which was publicly displayed!) and finally when he cuts one of his underlings some extra slack (even though that can be seen as a wise business decision more than anything else).

It is interesting to see yet another TV crime boss who is very charismatic. Ironically one of the most evil criminals on TV in recent years (to my knowledge) was Vic Mackie in The Shield, and even he had his soft side. It would be interesting to learn whether real crime bosses have the softer side to them or whether it is just a romanticised perception which softens what is essentially such a tough pill to swallow.