By Michael Walsh
HBO debuted it’s well-known slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” in 1997. That same year the now-legendary television series The Sopranos was in its infant stages.
And never did the premium television station’s name of Home Box Office mean more. Visionary television series and miniseries like The Sopranos, Band of Brothers and Deadwood signified the increasing trend in cinematic television. That trailblazing effort now results in the company’s hyped Boardwalk Empire, a series based in 1920’s Atlantic City during prohibition from the creative mind of Terence Winter, screenwriter and producer for The Sopranos.
Winter’s new series brings a collection of creative minds and actors to the project that seem more fitting for the box office than they do for the home. Martin Scorsese is signed on as an executive producer and even directed the first episode of the series. The series features a cast of names more familiar to the world of film such as Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Stuhlbarg and Stephen Graham.
Boardwalk Empire continues HBO’s trend of producing series far and beyond that of network television. HBO often goes one step further than the glossy, uncreative and familiar content you’ll often find on cable networks such as CBS or ABC. It’s not that the basic cable networks aren’t capable of putting quality shows on the air, they sometimes do. HBO of course has the freedom to push the creative envelope just that much more, and does so, often with the help of much larger budgets and much larger names, and of course the liberating ability to be as violent and graphic in nature as they please.
And if the season premiere of the show is any indication, Boardwalk Empire won’t be wearing any restraints in the violence lane. The series, which debuted on Sunday night, was a 72-minute cinematic episode, and any small snippet could have been easily passed off as a clip from a recent film that was raking up big bucks in the box office. Buscemi’s talents let him take to task his leading role of Atlantic City’s Treasurer Nucky Thompson, a man who in the same night publicly condemns alcohol and makes his role as a ringleader in the alcohol-smuggling business known.
Off the bat the series appears well-produced, with painstakingly recreated boardwalk interiors and exteriors being the locale of much of the episode’s events. It’s reminiscent of HBO’s wonderful Deadwood, a series that expertly captured the atmosphere and imagery of South Dakota in the 1870’s. Set design isn’t the only aspect of the production that deserves acclaim, as high attention is also paid to costume detail, with characters donning what appear to the naked eye to be authentic recreations of 1920’s clothes. Each set and scene seems labored over, and it’s that attention to detail that separate a show like Boardwalk Empire from the rest of television.
But the real wonder of Boardwalk Empire has to offer down the line will come from the mind of Winter and the actors that turn his words into moving pictures. The first episode alone has enough character development to get viewers excited about where the show might take them. Michael Pitt, an accomplished but still rather unheard of actor, will get his shining moment as he plays Thompson’s driver Jimmy Darmody, a young up-and-coming kid who wants a shot at the big time. Opposing their efforts is Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon who plays a federal agent looking to track down the illegal alcohol-related crimes. The series is full of worthy actors and actresses, most of which have flown under the radar until recently. Including Michael Stuhlbarg, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his recent performance in A Serious Man.
With such wonderful minds like Winter behind the scenes and actors that are both accomplished and looking to be heard of on the screen, Boardwalk Empire already has serious potential to be one of the best series HBO has ever put on the air. Sure, saying that is a lot after only one episode, but with the track records of everyone involved and all the potential stories that Winter could possibly develop on will leave viewers waiting anxiously for every Sunday night to roll around.