is one of the most absorbing, riveting, and creepy series ever to hit American TV. Kudos to HBO for giving the creators the budget to re-create 1920s Atlantic City and to hire the amazing cast, which makes Boardwalk Empire
one of the best historical crime dramas ever made. In the way that HBO's earlier series The Sopranos
created a cast of not-exactly-likable-but-captivating bad guys, Boardwalk Empire
paints a grim, gritty picture of Prohibition--and the shrewd, bloodthirsty opportunists who made their fortunes acquiring, and illegally selling, alcohol. Steve Buscemi has the role of a lifetime as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the county treasurer in Atlantic City--a title that might as well be "Dictator for Life." Thompson is politically savvy enough to cultivate favor with the local League of Women Voters, but he also finds time to build, and rule, the pipeline through which illegal alcohol flows to the budding seaside resort. Buscemi's Thompson is cruel and harsh, which he needs to be to deal with the likes of Al Capone (Stephen Graham). Yet he has a soft spot and cultivates a tender, respectful relationship with a young immigrant widow (the talented Kelly Macdonald). Meanwhile, the Feds are trying to crack down on the illegal booze trade, and a hardheaded federal agent, Nelson Van Alden (played by Michael Shannon), becomes a worthy adversary for Thompson and his posse. But as talented as the cast is, the set design of Boardwalk Empire
nearly steals the show. It's as though no detail is too small to re-create, and the effect is one of total immersion. And the writing by Terence Winter (The Sopranos
) and guidance of executive producer Martin Scorsese also elevate Boardwalk Empire
to a consistent quality virtually unparalleled on American television.
The complete first-season boxed set includes every episode, and so much more. Not to be missed are the making-of featurette, a separate documentary on the creation of the 1920s Boardwalk (on a waterfront stretch of Brooklyn, New York), a feature on the real-life seamy Atlantic City as well as of famed speakeasies in New York and Chicago, audio commentaries, and much more. Boardwalk Empire is absolutely addictive, and a cultural phenomenon to be reckoned with--and not to be missed. We'll drink to that. --A.T. Hurley