HBO’s new Sunday night blockbuster Boardwalk Empire is a dazzlingly beautiful recreation of the an unforgettable time in history. The characters, the clothing, the sights and sounds of the 20’s are perfectly captured and create the best atmosphere for a gripping, thought-provoking drama that will leave you breathless. It’s a world infused with political and romantic entanglements, crime wars and corruption. It’s got everything – action, romance, gangsters – even comedic moments. In short – it’s a television series that puts most other programming to shame and one that shouldn’t be missed.
It’s set in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the Prohibition Era, and the pilot begins on the very day that Prohibition is declared. Filmed on a custom-built set in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the story is based on the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by New Jersey Judge Nelson Johnson. According to The Wall Street Journal, “HBO built a $5 million, 300-foot-long boardwalk on the waterfront to recreate Atlantic City circa 1920. The set required 150 tons of steel and includes historical elements like the Baby Incubator, an actual nursery where tourists could gawk at tiny, premature infants. The 12 episodes produced for the first season employed more than 300 crew members, 225 actors in speaking roles and 1,000 extras. It took about 200 days to shoot, twice what a standard network drama would take.” The series will go on to describe the events that led Atlantic City from being a simple seaside resort town, to the infamous gambling oasis.
The best part about this series I think is the main character. Steve Buscemi is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Atlantic City political boss and racketeer, based off of the real character of Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson (1883-1968), who’s rule reached it’s apex in Atlantic City during the Roaring Twenties when the city was notorious for being a temporary refuge from Prohibition. Johnson controlled the bootlegging operations, organized gambling, and prostitution in “The World’s Playground”, and most of his income came from these illegal exploits, making him a formidable fortune. Buscemi plays Thompson to a T, really capturing the spirit of the character, right down to the red carnation we wore daily in his lapel, lording over the City from his suite at The Ritz, the Robin Hood of the 20’s – revelling in opulence and scheming his way to the top, but still taking time to share with the people who surround him. His performance is striking, and unforgettable.
Martin Scorsese, executive producer of the show, directed the pilot episode and established the look and feel of the show, so that other directors that followed could match it seamlessly. He continues to make casting decisions, and screens all of the dailies and edits. Scorsese will probably direct more episodes once the series continues with appropriate scheduling, but continues to be creatively involved. It’s already been picked up for a second season, since it scored the highest ratings for an HBO series since Deadwood, so we at least get another season of awesome Sunday-night watching after this one. Thank you HBO – this is gonna be one amazing box set once it’s finished – but let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon.