Season three of Boardwalk Empire is up and running and I’ve been trying to convince myself to jump back on the B.E. bandwagon. The problem that I’m facing is that I’m a season behind and I can’t bring myself to get caught up. I don’t know why. I like this show. I really do. I mean, it’s a great show right? Everybody says so. I think I like it. Of course I like it. What’s not to like? Yeah, I like it. So why does it feel like such hard work to get through almost every episode? I sit down at my computer or pick up the iPad and I can’t do it. I’m logged into HBO GO and the episode list is right there. But I can’t hit play. Why won’t I watch it? I tell myself that maybe I’m just tired. Maybe that ancient episode of Tenacious D just sounds like more fun. Could it be that facing the prospect of watching so many hour long episodes just so I can say I caught up is too daunting of a task? That can’t be right. I could sit through a marathon of The Wire or Game of Thrones without batting an eye. Something occurred to me recently though. Is Boardwalk Empire as good as those two shows? Is it really even a good show? Do I only like B.E. because it’s a show on HBO and I’m automatically giving it a pass? Would I watch this show if it was exactly the same but featured on AMC instead? How about Showtime? I dunno. I’ve heard Homeland is a really good show, but I haven’t seen an episode yet. Why? Because it’s not on HBO godammit. So now I want to break down Boardwalk Empire and see if it’s really the show that I want it to be, or just the average show that I fear it really is.
Let’s first take a look at the star power that’s featured on this show shall we? That’s what initially roped me in when HBO first started running promos for Boardwalk. And yes I know, liking a show should be about more than just the actors that are featured. I get it. But there’s a reason I still haven’t seen the Soprano’s. And the reason is that loud-breathing ogre Tony played by James Gandolfini. He bears a striking resemblance to a moblin from The Legend of Zelda. Yeah it’s a good show, but I can’t watch it because I keep expecting Tony to kidnap a princess and slowly shuffle around the screen.
Steve Buscemi is different. He’s not a huffing ogre. He’s one of my favorite actors in ever. My first memory of the best Steve ever was from watching Reservoir Dogs as a kid. How can Mr. Pink not be the best part of that movie? He was all business and knew there was a rat in the house before anyone else. Buscemi is nothing short of brilliant in everything else he’s worked on. But he’s almost always been part of the supporting cast. I guess looking like a large fleshy gecko doesn’t get you top billing very often. When I first heard that Buscemi had been cast as Nucky Thompson, I immediately said, “Who the shit is Nucky Thompson?” Then I got excited anyway because Steve’s finally getting a chance to be the star of the show and prove his acting brilliance on a network that makes you a headliner. Would he be able to play a believable gangster in an early 20th century period piece? This was Buscemi’s chance to shine and prove that he’s got what it takes to be a leading (still hideous) man. And does he? Of course he does! He’s Steve Fucking Buscemi! Second billing went to Michael Pitt. He plays a WWI vet trying to break into the world of politics under Nucky’s tutelage. You may remember Pitt from his role as the creepy albino guy in every movie he’s ever acted. You may also remember that he’s the best actor in pretty much all of those movies. Pitt does more of the same as a burgeoning gangster on Boardwalk. The other big name actor tied to the show is Gretchen Moll. To say I have an unhealthy attraction to her is an understatement. It’s not a wear-your-skin type of attraction, but I’ve had a crush on her for a long time. When I saw that she’d be playing Jimmy’s mom, I was a bit thrown since she’s really not that old. Then I started watching the show and understood. And yes I know what happens at the end of season two so….gross. The two big breakout performances come from Stephen Graham as a young Al Capone and Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein. Both of these guys steal every scene. And if you’d seen Snatch, you’d already know that Tommy was the best character in the history of film.
Now if only we could get them for more than two minutes at a time. The rest of the cast is pretty rock solid. We get a good assortment of character actors and Omar from The Wire. Oh indeed. One of the big sellers HBO used when promoting Boardwalk was throwing around Martin Scorsese’s name like that sad guy at the party that really wants you to like him based on who he knows. But you don’t have to do that HBO. We like you for who you are. And really, Scorcese only directed the first episode. That’s like getting to heaven and Jesus is there to greet you but then he passes you off to Bill to show you around. Jesus tells you that Bill’s a great guy and he’s gonna take really good care of you. Then Jesus hops in his chariot and drives off to another appointment. Sure Bill is nice and all, but he’s not Jesus. Am I not good enough to get a tour from the Lord? That’s kind of how it happened on Boardwalk. Director situation aside, I’m really high on the cast. They can’t possibly be the problem.
So if the cast and acting isn’t the reason I can’t sit through this show, it must be the show itself right? That’s gotta be it. How about the setting? We start at the inception of prohibition and the most crooked city treasurer in ever is starting the biggest bootlegging operation in ever. Sounds good to me. That’s must see goddamn tv. Or MSGDTV for short. Atlantic City is nice and all, but doesn’t it seem like the more interesting story lines are in Chicago or New York? (see Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein) Rothstein fixed the World Series! I smell spin-off! The show is filled with gratuitous amounts of violence, sex, and substance abuse. Like I said, it’s on HBO. Setting and atmosphere are great. Was I really into the Roarin 20’s and bootlegging before Boardwalk Empire? Of course not. But it’s still an interesting time and HBO has done a great job recreating the atmosphere. I never thought I’d be interested in a show about Baltimore, but now I think it’s a magical land inhabited by Clay Davis.
Maybe it’s the slow burn style plot development that really kills the mood for me. I caught a part of season 3 a few weeks ago and Nucky sat in a basement for an hour. Yeah that’s a pretty slow hour of television. Then I have to deal with Nucky’s wife handing out flyers on the boardwalk….bored. But holy shit Capone just beat a dude to death with his bare hands in front of a crowd! Oh my god then he throws money on him! That was awesome! Oh, now I have watch Eli drink for a while. Whoa, Nucky just shot that kid in head! And now Van Alden has baby momma drama! Oh we’re going show more flyers being handed out? Okay I guess. Maybe next we’ll get to see Chalky call somebody a mother fucker and go after them with some farm equipment. No? Oh, yeah I guess I’ll watch the Schroeder kid go to his first communion. Ugh. Eli just killed that dude with a wrench! And now Jimmy’s wife is crying for no reason. And roll credits. I think that’s really the key to the whole thing. There are just too many characters that I don’t give two shits about. Their presence lessens the experience for me and really kills the flow of the show. Who cares that Margaret Schroeder is fantasizing about the Irish guy that’s boning the average looking maid? I don’t think Boardwalk has too many characters. (are you listening Game of Thrones?) I just think it has too many characters that aren’t doing anything interesting.
So there you have it. We just need to kill off the right people and Boardwalk Empire will be perfect. Or maybe I should just stop being a nitpicky bitch and enjoy the show for what is. It has won like 20 Emmys after all. And we all know they don’t hand those out to every crappy show on tv.
P.S. Today is election day so go vote! Or don’t. I really don’t give a shit.