BOARDWALK EMPIRE “Gimcrack and Bunkum” Review

BOARDWALK EMPIRE “Gimcrack and Bunkum” Season 1 Episode 5 – The Starz show Boss premiered this week and watching it, I was reminded a lot of Boardwalk Empire. It has the distinct directorial style (though, as you can imagine, Gus Van Saint’s directing is vastly different from Scorsese’s-whose style of directing introduced in the pilot of Boardwalk Empire has been pretty much set the standard for the show). But Boss, like Boardwalk Empire, involves a corrupt but widely admired politician who, in front of a crowd is all genial showmanship fighting for your rights, but behind closed doors they’re brutal and cutting deals and struggling with powers.

For me, Boss is most interesting when it’s showing the political backroom dealings and my interest (although only one episode has aired) waned any time the show tried to deal with personal dramas. Boardwalk Empire has the opposite problem. I find myself daydreaming during the business dealings, but far more gripped by the family drama and personal crises of the characters. Richard Harrow’s suicide attempt had me gripped from beginning to squirrely end. Nucky’s encounter with his brother, which ended with Eli’s hands around Nucky’s throat and Margaret pointing a rifle at his head, was one of the best moments of the episode. (Then the show had to go ruin it with Eli bashing a guy’s head in for no reason whatsoever.)

Much of the problem with the show is with the cast: good to great actors all of them, but they’re either miscast (like Steve Buscemi-and if you don’t believe me just check out what Kelsey Grammer does with essentially the same role in Boss)or else they’re just lacking in energy so that any time they pop up on screen I feel a Pavlovian urge to make myself a cup of tea – like Michael Pitt, an actor I like, but who needs to be surrounded by craziness to actually make an impact. When he’s surrounded by mediocrity, he’s mediocre too. All of the actors say their lines and walk around with the most humourless attitudes I’ve ever seen. You might say that Breaking Bad is the darkest show on television, but Boardwalk Empire is the most miserable. The characters take no glee out of life, they have no joy, no happiness. Have you ever seen the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days? That’s a film about backroom abortions, yet I was less miserable watching that than I was finishing this episode. This is a dour show to watch. I wish it was more joyful. Because the writing and directing and the story itself is so interesting.

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below.