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?