Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Review - Nucky Nosferatu

by David Chute
September 27, 2011 3:50 AM
5 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

As its second season begins, David Chute finds that he admires Boardwalk Empire but does not love it.

We took it as a sign during Boardwalk Empire’s first season that the show’s fabulously expensive exterior and interior sets never felt lived in. Compare Boardwalk’s boardwalk, a beautiful sweep of CG-enhanced Hollywood carpentry, with Deadwood’s Deadwood, an assortment of tents and swaybacked outhouses, awash in mud and dust and struggling humanity. Even the Harlan County, Kentucky, of Justified, cobbled together from various locations in Southern California, conveys a more organic sense of place. The characters are convinced that they were born and raised and rooted there, and so do we.
Thompson on Hollywood
As its second season begins, Boardwalk remains a show that we admire more than we love, by which we are impressed but not seduced. Someone said (I wish I could remember who), that BE plays less like a classic gangster drama than the latest variation on vampire chic, with saturnine Steve Buscemi as the gliding Nosferatu of racketeers. Would that it were that much fun. With every detail of decor and performance carefully molded and sanded and buffed to a high gloss, the primary appeal of Boardwalk Empire will be to connoisseurs of meticulousness.

Thankfully, the show’s passionate devotion to detail extends to the sensitivity with which even the smallest roles have been cast -- the background hookers in Johnny Torio’s Chicago cathouse, for example, who could have stepped out a period Weegee-style photograph. Actress Emily Meade as Pearl, Jimmy’s ill-fated dreamer fling, caught our attention last year, and the ongoing vibrations of Aleksa Palladino as Jimmy’s soulful wife Angela, cast adrift by both her fence-straddling sexuality and her dreams of Parisian creative splendor, come across even when all she’s doing is serving ham and eggs to Jimmy and new housemate Richard “Tin Woodman” Harrow. And Enid Graham, as hard-case prohibition agent Van Alden’s wife Rose, manages in just a few short scenes to suggest the contours of an inner life within a shell of jittery repression.

The pieces, in other words, the individual contributions, tend to be first rate. What’s missing is a sense of the whole sweep of the program as a living entity. Boardwalk Empire is an ungainly simulacrum of a fabulous TV show, heavy on its feet, lumbering through the underbrush. What’s missing is the jolt of galvanic energy that would fuse the parts and bring the creature to life. An odd thing to be short on, energy, in a Martin Scorsese project.

I don’t know what they have to be so self-conscious about, given the richness of the historical material. If they stick to the chronology and make it all the way from the establishment of prohibition in 1920 to repeal in 1933, the show will pass along the way one of the true landmarks of mob history in the U.S., the 1929 summit meeting of mobsters from across the country, organized by Lucky Luciano and hosted by Nucky Johnson/Thompson in Atlantic City, the event that created the first true nationwide crime syndicate. But at this rate, and as this pace, I’m not sure I’ll make it that far.

5 Comments

  • Andrew | November 1, 2011 2:07 AMReply

    Maybe I’m one of the “connoisseurs of meticulousness” mentioned here, because I happen to love Boardwalk Empire. It’s my favorite period piece drama since ROME. Enough so that I was kicking myself for not setting my DVR the other day when I made an unscheduled trip out of town. Fortunately though, working for DISH Network, I’d heard of their dishonline website. It’s a streaming service that has thousands of titles., including Boardwalk Empire. so I was able to catch up. But I guess I just don’t quite get the criticism. Mad Men has a similar pace and in my opinion a less interesting story and I never see these types of comments about that show.

  • Ashleigh | September 29, 2011 8:49 AMReply

    Your use of the plural pronoun is a little distracting, and makes this piece kind of hard to read.

  • DavidC | September 29, 2011 5:02 AMReply

    @Ashliegh. We beg to differ.

  • Hallowseve | September 28, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    The show isn't fun. It's like the writers have banned fun from all character plot lines. Thank you for mentioning the sublime work of those actresses and what they individually bring to the whole. They are unsung and wonderful.
    Boardwalk Empire is ultimately full of itself in a very bad way. It's flat and dull and the writing never goes where the human drama is. In fact it seems to avoid it.

  • Sensa B. | September 27, 2011 4:29 AMReply

    The casting, sets, costumes and music are all mind blowing which only makes it more obvious that something is terribly off with the writing. HBO should get new writers so we get some story that is meaningful. By the way since all the characters are real we know the fictitious ones are the ones who will die. The show is so twisted and sick it doesn't allow us to care about anyone in the least bit. Elements of the stories this show wishes to tell are truly repulsive and the long monologues! Leave it for the theatre. The whole show is a squandered opportunity.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Sony Counters Bad Press with 'Spider-Man' ...
  • PBS Preview: Six New 'Makers' Documentaries ...
  • Toronto Film Festival Global Summit ...
  • Distribution Maestro Jeff Blake Exits ...
  • Trailers From Hell Loves 'All That ...
  • Which World Premieres Did Venice La ...
  • Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley Will ...
  • Get Tied Down With First Trailer for ...
  • Not Into 'Hercules'? Here Are 6 Alternatives ...
  • Comic-Con Movie Preview: Warner Bros., ...