Boardwalk Empire

bill bodkin looks at HBO’s new new jersey based crime series

Is the world ready for another look at the seedy underbelly of the boardwalks of New Jersey?

Well, if MTV’s Jersey Shore showed us anything, it’s that the world needs to see a really well-written, well-acted and terrifically engaging show about the seedy world of the Jersey Shore.

HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which debuted Sunday night, is a slickly produced crime series about the prohibition-era Atlantic City with a focus on the resort town’s famous boardwalk. The series follows political boss Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) — a man with his fingers in a lot of cookie jars — bootlegging, election rigging, gambling and placating to all sorts of political groups (especially the Atlantic City Women’s League, who are big time temperance advocates).

After watching the pilot the series seems to deftly blend the potent violence and sexuality of The Sopranos with the amazingly nuanced historical accuracy and dramatic polish of Mad Men. Add the golden directorial touch of Martin Scorsese and the golden production touch of Mark Wahlberg (he does produce Entourage) and the recipe for success is in play.

The writing, as expected, is top of the line, laureate-like writing. The characters are rich, deep, wrought with all sorts of emotion. No cardboard cut-outs here. We’re already intrigued by the emotionally wounded WWI vet Jimmy (Michael Pitt — in his best role), a little too-religious G-Man (the always creepy Michael Shannon) and an abused Irish mother (the always awesome Kelly MacDonald). We’ve already been entangled in a complex web of a plot involving Chicago gangsters, bootlegging, double-crosses and town politics. The pilot has done an excellent job of making the audiences feeling they must tune in next week in order to find out what will happen next.

Yet, with all it’s acting, writing and production pedigree, Boardwalk Empire’s success lies on the acting talents of Steve Buscemi. Much like HBO did with The Sopranos, they’ve taken a long-time supporting actor and thrust him into the spotlight. And it’s well-deserved. Buscemi is one of the great chameleons of our time — he’s a regular in goofy Adam Sandler films and a favorite the Coen Brothers, he’s been in big budget Michael Bay films and headlined treasured indie flicks. As Nucky, Buscemi combines his classic smart alecky performances, the ones where he spits bile and hatred with every “F” bomb with a sense of touching humanity, a sense in which you really care for him — like a stronger version of the loveable Donny from The Big Lebowski. He’s a dangerous man, who still has a bit of humanity left. He’s loyal to his friends yet is a master of deception. It’s one of the best written characters since Don Draper took his first sip of scotch on AMC.

As of right now Boardwalk Empire is scheduled for a limited run this fall on HBO. In the time this show runs I will gladly forgo Sunday Night Football and whatever time it cuts into Mad Men. I am officially hooked on this richly complex new crime drama.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites