Boardwalk Empire Pilot (HBO)

Throw Martin Scorsese, Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly MacDonald, period drama, gangsters, a writer from The Sopranos, Prohibition into a cauldron, stir it up, and you come out with a heaping glop of awesomeness. BOARDWALK EMPIRE premiered last night and it was such a glop; not wholly indiscernible yet completely intriguing. Never has there been such a shoe in to join the list of cable dramas like Deadwood, The Sopranos and Mad Men.

The year is 1920 and as we join the characters, Prohibition is just about to be put into place. Not that this is any concern for Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Treasurer of Atlantic City and bootlegger. When we are first introduced to him he is a speaker at the Women’s Tolerance League, throwing his support behind their Prohibition support with a good ole tearjerker of a tale. “First rule of politics, kiddo,” he informs his protégé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

There is so much to salivate over in the atmosphere alone, never mind the plot and characters: just watch Nucky puffing a cigarette on the boardwalk, and look at the billboards advertising smoking, the scenery or the costumes. Often the scenes without dialogue are just as powerful as those with. There are shocking scenes in their violence (eh…I’ll go with the shotgun to a man’s head from a foot away); and their cruelty: Margaret Shroeder’s (Kelly Macdonald) children crying as they watch their mother being beaten; and the time change shock: a black woman in a maid’s uniform, a boxing match between dwarves, white men in blackface.

Steve Buscemi is Steve Buscemi. There really just is no comparing him. He is comic, creepy, heartbreaking and cruel at the drop of a pin. As Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, Treasurer of Atlantic City and also spearheading the alcohol smuggling ring, he carries the show though he is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast.

Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, just out of the First World War, a go getter, is one of those actors, who, when I watch him, rarely do I forget I am watching Michael Pitt. But that’s fine. He’s an engaging performer, just not an embodying one. His scenes with his wife and young son are endearing and Darmody’s impatient motivation, along with his ties to the FBI and Nucky will surely spawn some intriguing storylines.

Kelly Macdonald on the other hand, is an actress who loses herself in the roles she plays. A Scottish actress with a real Glaswegian brogue, she plays an Irish immigrant with a Kerry/Tipperary dialect who captures the heart of Nucky. Luckily, her charming husband is taken care of by the end of the pilot: a gambling alcoholic who beats his pregnant wife into a miscarriage in front of their two small children is not exactly a demise that compelled me to reach for the tissues; Macdonald’s performance on the other hand, does, especially when she’ paired with Buscemi. Their scenes just simmer.

Other characters introduced were gangsters Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and the infamous ‘Lucky’ Luciano (Vincent Piazza), along with the gloriously hilarious Paz del la Huerta as Lucy Danziger, Nucky’s current bed partner.

Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. In the hands of such talented writers, actors, designers, directors and producers, it seems my Sunday nights will be busy for a long while. I just hope the rest of the episodes are as deliciously brutal and beautiful as the first.

What did you think about Boardwalk Empire? Leave your comments below!

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