Boardwalk Empire, September – present, Sundays at 9 on HBO
I have a confession to make: I don’t watch Mad Men. I know, I know, it’s great. It’s just that I got onboard way too late, and now I’m too far behind, and it’s impossible to enjoy episodes from two years ago when everyone you know won’t shut up about the latest episode. I can’t watch the new ones because I don’t know the back story, and watching the old ones just to understand the new ones starts to feel like homework. …It’s quite possible that we now have too much good TV. That said, I’ve learned from my mistakes. So when I heard about Boardwalk Empire, I got in early. Created by a producer from the Sopranos, produced by Martin Scorcese (among others) and starring Steve Buscemi, it wasn’t hard to predict that this would be the next big show.
And now that I’m watching it, it doesn’t feel like homework. First off, ignore the idiots that say Steve Buscemi can’t carry a show. He doesn’t play leading men because he doesn’t look like Jon Hamm, it’s not because he’s not a great actor. He is. Did I mention it’s about 20s gangsters? I know everyone likes the slick hair and skinny ties and Jackie O outfits on Mad Men, but we’ve had that look coming out our ears for like five years now. I’ll take prohibition-era wiseguys any day. I miss Rome as much as the next guy, but as far as debaucherous period pieces go, the Roaring Twenties ain’t bad. It’s basically Gangs of New York set in 1920s Atlantic City, and if I could think of a better pitch than that, I’d be rich.
Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, the Atlantic City politician (based on real-life figure Enoch “Nucky” Johnson) taking kickbacks from the local bookies and booze runners, leading an ensemble cast that includes Michael Stuhlbarg (from the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man), Stephen Graham from Snatch as a young Al Capone, and of course Michael K. Williams, the unforgettable Omar from The Wire. And thanks to Gretchen Mol and Paz De la Huerta, it has some of the finest nude scenes ever put to television. Gretchen Mol, who’s 37, plays Michael Pitt’s mother even though he’s 29, which is really weird, but far be it from me to complain about anything that involves Gretchen Mol running around with barely any clothes on. And finally, can I say it? A show with the promise of crime and violence is just more enticing than more rich people screwing each other. Okay, don’t listen to my Mad Men-bashing, it’s just bitterness. But the Boardwalk Empire love, that’s real.