TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Premiere, Nussbaum TV Game, Johnson Directs 'Breaking Bad'

by David Chute
September 10, 2013 4:32 PM
1 Comment
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Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) takes care of business HBO

The season premiere of "Boardwalk Empire" was as lush and well-acted -- and as weirdly uncompelling -- as ever. Perhaps we've watched too many period gangster dramas, at this point, to be easily enthralled by a show that takes a staunchly traditionalist approach to the genre.

However, as we noted a couple of weeks ago in writing fondly about A&E's contemporary Western "Longmire," which hasn't been the subject of brow-furrowing essays but often makes us happy, the comfortable familiarity of genre stories is hardly a drawback for the people who nestle into them. A shot of a '30s roadster idling in the snow, a sit-down peace conference at which a large bag of money and all the legends are present (Rothstein, Luciano, Lansky, Capone), even just the tapping of an unfiltered smoke on the cover of a gleaming cigarette case -- it doesn't take much more than this to ignite a warm glow in the breast of an aficionado.

Mostly a house-cleaning episode, punctuated with a series of grimly efficient Richard Harrow rub outs, clearing up some old business, but the best scenes open up new possibilities.

In the absence of Michael Shannon's Nelson Van Alden, Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) emerged in just a couple of scenes as a blandly smooth-faced sociopath, second cousin under the skin to Jesse Plemons' conscientious Todd on "Breaking Bad."

And Michael Kenneth Williams' Chalky White, partnered with Nucky in the AC's new hotspot, The Onyx Club, pays a heavy price for a strange act of managerial perversity. He has made a factotum (the episode's magic word) out of the posturing blowhard (Erik LaRay Harvey’s Dunn Purnsley) whose spirit he seemingly crushed, without raising his, voice, in a terrific jailhouse sequence in season two. ("Purnsley be done.") The ticking time bomb finally explodes in a scene in which a berserk Purnsley shreds with a broken bottle the neck of a rep from the Cotten Club, a pet project of the New York mob. We end up feeling that Chalky, who rarely puts a foot wrong, may have revealed a tragic flaw in the pleasure he takes in subjugating a fallen foe.

New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum has given us the perfect set-up for a non-alcoholic TV-watching game, tweeting as follows on September 5: "There is a scene in the season finale of 'Newsroom' that was the worst scene in all of 'Newsroom,' which is its own special achievement." Didn't ID the scene in advance, of course, because that would be unethical. So now, in addition to wondering who at ACN will be left standing, or shacked up, or broken up, after the Genoa dust settles, we will also have the fun of trying to spot the scene that is Nussbaum's worst-ever. No prizes.

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1 Comment

  • Ian Moore | September 10, 2013 7:45 PMReply

    I completely agree with the headline that "TV IS THE NEW CINEMA". As a movie goer I often find myself getting bored with Hollywood's reliance on summer blockbusters, and sad to say overall lack of originality and daring needed to produce great films. This being said I believe that originality and daring have found their place in the world of television. Shows like Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire are constantly pushing the boundaries and leaving their audiences glued to the screen. I write a blog about the impact technology has played on the film and television industry and think that we are now living in a time where the best storytelling is being done on television. I rarely feel the need to rush out to the theatre and see a new film, but like many others I am glued to my sofa at the same times of particular nights because I cant possibly miss the newest episode of these gripping shows.
    Ian Moore

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