Monday, 13 December 2010

Boardwalk Empire Season 1

Scorsese teams up with The Sopranos crew to make what will be one of the defining moments in TV history. Think you know what you're favourite TV show ever is? Well, you might want to put that decision on hold for a bit.

Let me briefly tell you what Boardwalk Empire is about. The film takes place in Atlantic City during the Twenties prohibition era and local politician Nucky (Steve Buscemi)  rules the roost. However, as highly respected as he is, he is also a ruthless gangster and the main storyline is about the growing rivalry with New York.

People will see a lot of parallels between this and The Sopranos. There is the obvious reason that it was created by Sopranos writer Terence Winter and the main director is Sopranos vetaran Van Patten, but it's not just the technical aspects. The style is very subtle, the plot being just about what is not said rather than what is and this isn't taking anything away from the remarkable, clever, intelligent dialogue that takes place between the incredible characters. Visually, it's a delight, the city is a living, breathing creation that makes you forget it's some backlot in Brooklyn and the camerawork and photography is exquisite. Much like Mad Men, people will start talking about the fashion, the glamour and splendour of the era that will inevitably start coming through into our everyday lives and along with the music, everything fits perfectly, you can tell that HBO weren't scared of haemorrhaging money into this series with an $18 million pilot and a series cost of at least $50 million, but boy is it worth it.

It helps that Scorsese directed the pilot and produces the series, it's gangster element is always there but never shows its face too often and the intermittent violence makes it more shocking and more visceral with a lot of surprises that would catch me out almost all of the time. It's a series, much like Sopranos, that will never follow suit but isn't scared to do what it wants. There are moments in this series that will stay with you forever and I know that you will be discussing amongst other Boardwalk fans when the time comes. However, what I will say makes it remarkably more different from Sopranos and arguably better is not only the narratives (which I will come on to) but the characters. The acting, as a whole, I would say is a lot better than Sopranos and it makes a difference that many of these characters actually existed, including Nucky, Rathbone and obviously Al Capone played by the incredible Stephen Graham. The dialogue, look and style of the piece will engross you in the first place, but the stellar high class acting that is performed here will suck up a lot of awards inevitably coming it's way and even though the series takes place around Nucky, a lot of the other characters are given just as much, if not more, screen time. Which brings me on to the stories at hand.

The general metaphor here is that the characters, much like the city and well, everyone, might have a shining, sparkly exterior but underneath it's a vile cesspit of secrets. It's a place where innocence is lost and with Kelly Macdonald's Irish housewife Mrs. Schroeder being the main example of this, it is a dark place that you can leave your morals behind and where you have to have two faces to survive. Michael Pitt plays a war hero returning to a life of crime and now is a different man. Often his life of the French trenches will surface showing a disturbing portrayal of a man trying to get on with his life and yet at the same time hold on to his humanity while trying to rise up the ranks with his mate Al Capone. A lot of historical accuracy is taken here, with a touch of salt of course, and in Capone's case you can see him develop from hot-headed ruffian to a man that will be one of the most well-known gangsters of all time. My favourite character Richard Harrow played by Jack Huston is the physical manifestation of Michael Pitt's insecurities and the ugliness of war - a character that will stay with me forever. Two other stand out performances are Paz de la Huerta's Lucy who oozes sex appeal and her constant use of 'Daddy' makes you realise that she's just a little girl who wants male attention as well as Prohibition cop Michael Shannon who is seriously fucked in the head and is fast becoming the most watchable person on a TV screen - you cannot help but hold your breath every time he appears, he steals every scene. These characters are just the tip of the iceberg though with actors like Michael Williams (Omar from The Wire), Aleksa Palladino as Pitt's wife and Michael Stuhlbarg as the charasmatic New York leader Arnold Rothstein. However, what made me realise that this will probably be better than Sopranos is that, not only are the different narratives just as interesting as each other (and doesn't just follow Nucky which for the most part Sopranos does with Tony) but also the characters and acting feel less cartoon-like and more realistic, which is strange seeing as it is essentially a period piece. Proof of this is Greg Antonacci who plays Johnny Torio and was one of the New York gang working under Johnny Sack in Sopranos, he plays the part well but is completely out-acted by everyone around him and what might have worked in Sopranos, doesn't work here, it's a lot more of a serious affair.

I'm going to sacrifice going into too much detail here so that you guys experience the series without knowing what's happening but I'd be interested to see what people think. It deals with racism, politics, sexism, sexuality, war, violence and more without ever being too 'in-your-face' and it never slows down and you never know where it's going to go, it's just incredible.

Seeing as this hasn't hit UK shores yet until Sky releases Sky Atlantic showing HBO shows, this will definitely be it's flagship series and this'll be worth subscribing to for any cost. I can't tell you too much about the storylines without giving anything away but rest assured it's one of the best TV series out there and is definitely the best first season I've seen for anything ever. If it carries on with such high quality, it'll definitely be my favourite TV show ever - I cannot wait until next year to see the second series. I was going to do a video review for this, but it would be better just to show you a trailer as this series should not be taken lightly! It's an honour to watch such artists work.

Rating: 10/10

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