Created by celebrated Sopranos writer Terence Winter and overseen by filmmaking legend Martin Scorsese (who also helmed the pilot), Boardwalk Empire arrived with the sort of impressive pedigree that spoke for itself. Despite all the talent involved, however, the first season of HBO’s lavish crime drama was easier to admire than it was to enjoy, while the relentlessly deliberate approach often proved too slow and meandering for its own good. It’s great news, then, that Winter and his writing staff have clearly taken stock, as season two is a noticeable improvement on a number of fronts. Addressing certain criticisms, Winter ups the action and wisely allows more screen time to the show’s most interesting characters (such as Jack Huston’s haunting hitman, Richard Harrow), while providing a sharper sense of narrative direction overall. Again, there are tonnes of plot threads and characters to juggle (many of which may still prove impenetrable to lazier viewers), but each arc revolves around Nucky’s fall from grace and the accompanying rise of former protégé Jimmy Darmody. As the former, popular character actor Steve Buscemi continues to split opinion (some rave about his performance, others maintain he’s miscast), while as the latter, Michael Pitt nearly steals the season with a suitably conflicted turn. As always, though, it’s the electrifying Michael Shannon who proves most compelling as obsessive federal officer Nelson Van Alden, while William Forsythe’s butchering crime boss Manny Horvitz emerges as the best new addition. Fresh killed meat, indeed.