Last Night on Boardwalk Empire: 'I'm Making a Statement'

Things were slightly better on Boardwalk Empire during episode two. For starters, the Martin Scorsese-led trip down mob movie memory lane disappeared in favor of a more Sopranos-like sex and ultra-violence sheen. Except, of course, without any of the depth, character development or ingenuity.

Apologies in advance: If you thought this was going to be another fawning notice about Boardwalk Empire, prepare to be disappointed. Through two episodes, the show has been the television version of a chocolate Easter Bunny: delicious on the outside, totally hollow on the inside. What's the point of this anyway?

Seriously, I'm asking. Without the below-the-surface musings and deceptions of The Sopranos or Mad Men, we're left with a pretty looking period piece about mobsters. Big deal. Even more indicting is that the characters we've been given haven't risen above their archetypes. Steve Buscemi's Enuch "Nucky" Thompson is an unbelievable gangster, in that he's unbelievable. None of his actions resonate because Buscemi can't possibly pull them off; again, he's better as Mr. Pink than as Mr. Soprano, and watching him "act tough" is grating. At least the one-note Stephen Graham (as Al Capone), Michael Shannon (as the obviously deranged FBI agent) and Kelly MacDonald (the damsel-in-distress) are playing to type, but we've seen them all before, too.

I'd like to say I'm missing something here, but missing what? The reason The Sopranos worked as a television show was because it seamlessly combined Tony's mental state with his mob lifestyle. That push and pull hasn't been used to great effect on Boardwalk Empire just yet, except when dealing with Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody, the one character who appears on the way toward anything resembling an arc. Struggling with his desire for the American dream and his difficult time acclimating back into society after the war, Darmody is Boardwalk Empire's best hope for a full-bodied Tony Soprano-type anti-hero. The sooner the show pushes him into the foreground permanently, the better.

Some other quick observations:

· Gretchen Mol sighting! The actress showed up playing a showgirl who may or may not have ties to Jimmy's father and may or may not be his mistress. Her scenes with Pitt were a highlight -- and not just because of her wardrobe -- if only because he seemed to have no clue what to do with her. More of this please.

· Michael K. Williams almost sighting! The Wire star, who plays gangster Chalky White, was briefly glimpsed in the pilot and only mentioned by name in episode two. According to the previews, he'll factor in next week, so that's good.

· Series creator and former Sopranos writer Terence Winter wrote this episode with direction from former Sopranos regular director, Tim Van Patton. It showed, as "The Ivory Tower" hued much more closely to the darkly comic nature of The Sopranos than the pilot episode did. The closing moment -- two unimportant characters engaging in a sex act while a supposedly dead man comes stumbling out of the woods -- was pure David Chase. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, but it's certainly a thing.

· Michael Stuhlbarg's speech about cue balls and choking to death was utterly typical, but done impeccably. How has this guy not been cast in more stuff since A Serious Man last year?



Comments

  • SaltySue says:

    Funny, you state the show is only two episodes in yet you go on about what it is missing, and you compare it against Mad Men and The Sopranos; one which is several seasons in and the other has finished its run. Next time critique the episode, and if you still can't stomach it ask Movieline to find some else to critique it.
    And furthermore Nucky Thompson IS NOT A GANGSTER. Did you not read any of the previews for this show. He is a politician that works with gangsters.

  • Christopher Rosen says:

    Perhaps in my kneejerk hatred/indifference to Boardwalk Empire's latest episode, I didn't make myself very clear. It is only two episodes in, but in two episodes on Mad Men and The Sopranos, we already had the narrative drive to the entire plot: Don's identity, Tony's sessions with Melfi. Through two episodes of Boardwalk Empire, what is the central narrative pull? The booze? The shooting? These are short-term things that don't seem very interesting. If you want to say that this is a show about Nucky's degeneration into being a gangster, or Jimmy's, then maybe. But thus far that hasn't been shown very well.
    Second: Yes, Nucky is a gangster. I know he's a politician (not only did I read the previews, I -- gasp! -- watched the show), but he's a gangster. And while you may be right that in the pilot, he was supposed to be shown having a conflict between his two established worlds (politics, crime), the second episode dissipated that very quickly. The way he spoke to Arnold Rothstein, the way he handled Jimmy, the way he handled Doyle (or whatever that guy's name is in jail). He's a gangster. And he's not convincing as a gangster. He's more convincing as the guy trapped between both worlds. Unfortunately, we only saw that for about 5 minutes in the pilot.

  • Zeke says:

    You review sucks, the show is great. I think you just wan't to be a reviewer that goes against the grain. Your review is more shallow than what you proclaim the show is.

  • SaltySue says:

    Just admit that you didn't give the show a chance because you don't want to give the show a chance, you already had your mind made up about it before the second episode even aired. Your "review" proves this. There are only a few aspects I like about Boardwalk Empire but I'm not going to completely dismiss it before I can see how its potential is being set up.

  • I definitely gave the show a chance. I loved the premise, couldn't wait to see the pilot and was immediately disappointed. I read that the pilot was the weak link, so watched episode two with a renewed vigor. Instead, more disappointment. We'll see if it gets better on Sunday.

  • Thanks Zeke! Nothing like saying my review sucks and offering "the show is great" as reason to why. Sorry I don't agree with all the others. I like Lone Star though. Isn't that enough?

  • Horace Goodspeed says:

    "Gretchen Mol sighting! The actress showed up playing a showgirl who may or may not have ties to Jimmy’s father and may or may not be his mistress. Her scenes with Pitt were a highlight — and not just because of her wardrobe — if only because he seemed to have no clue what to do with her. More of this please."
    Did you seriously not figure out by the end of this scene that she is his mother?

  • Noam says:

    I have to agree with you Chris - I'll probably keep watching because it is somewhat entertaining - and interesting to look at, but where is the depth? Nucky as well as Al come off as a comic book characters. Somewhat comical and two dimensional at best. It had me wondering if a comic book look and feel is what they are going for. Something like the movie of Dick Tracy - which to it's credit - was about a comic strip.
    For comparison you might also consider Deadwood.
    A cowboy epic that dripped with nuance and character. It, like the Soprano's , took a subject that had been reduced to pulp iconography, and put real flesh, blood, bone and emotion back into the stories we thought we already knew and dismissed as old hat.
    The set, look and feel are also comic book-ish. They look like sets, not real life. It also looks like they are shooting in video as opposed to film. That isn't helping in giving it a sense of weight either.
    Hey - it may be a fun ride - but it's not in league with HBO and other's efforts including, Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc. - Sorry.

  • Noam says:

    oops- forgot to include ' The Wire' in the list of recent TV greats for comparison. - And yes I did watch both episodes - was expecting to love it, and am disappointed. No agenda, just telling it like I see it.

  • Anonymous Please says:

    The piece of this that is being ignored is the Scorcese factor. OK, he's had a lot of winners. But let's face it, he's had a lot of duds, too. Fair enough. BUT - 1-He's obsessed with gangsters 2.-So many of his dud moviess have had crappy set design like this one. He tries hard to go all out...to have the Cecil DeMille grandiose sets, but they all look SO FAKE, ala Gangs of New York. BOGUS !

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