Atlantic City, New Jersey, the 1920s. With America on the verge of Prohibition, corrupt county treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Buscemi) organises an illegal bootlegging operation. Having aligned himself with influential politicians and a number of prominent mobsters, Nucky essentially runs the city from behind the scenes, functioning as both a respected politician and a ruthless, opportunistic kingpin. Eventually, though, he attracts the attention of federal officer Nelson Van Alden (Shannon), a single-minded Prohibition agent who becomes obsessed with bringing him down…
Quickly positioning itself as the latest must-see cable series from choice network HBO, Boardwalk Empire arrived with the kind of remarkable pedigree that speaks for itself. Created by celebrated Sopranos writer Terence Winter and overseen by filmmaking legend Martin Scorsese (who also directed the pilot), the result is a lavish and predictably intelligent gangster ensemble, boasting the impeccable craftsmanship you’d expect from such seasoned talents. Crucially, though, even patient viewers are liable to find it a little hard-going and uneventful at times, as the relentlessly deliberate approach often proves too slow and meandering for its own good. Not quite the finished product, Winter’s crime epic is undoubtedly classy but lacking that vital spark, resulting in a first season that’s far easier to admire than it is to enjoy. Still, the production team deserve credit for recreating the era – drab and depressing, though it is – with such detailed authenticity, and the performances are uniformly excellent. Steve Buscemi’s unofficial kingpin is fascinating if not nearly as charismatic as TV’s other premier ‘villains’, while Michael Shannon is utterly compelling as the increasingly unhinged federal agent on his case.
Boasting the kind of remarkable pedigree that speaks for itself, the first season of Boardwalk Empire is a lavish and finely crafted affair. It’s far from the finished article, though, as the deliberate approach to storytelling often proves too slow and meandering for its own good.