Created by Terence Winter, writer of “The Sopranos,” and Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire” is a lively drama that takes place during Prohibition in Atlantic City, N.J., in the Roaring 20s. The show is inspired by the non-fiction book of the same name written by Nelson Johnson.
With a pilot episode directed by Scorsese and a second episode directed by Timothy Van Patten, “Boardwalk Empire” focuses on the struggles of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi). Thompson is an influential public force who juggles politics and gangs in Atlantic City. Although he gives a hand out to help people, especially women, Thompson also wants to ensure that Atlantic City is supplied with alcohol, which quickly becomes illegal in the first episode. Throughout the series, he deals with people such as the infamous Al Capone (played by Stephen Graham of “Public Enemies”).
Buscemi’s portrayal of Thompson is interesting because he has a Jekyll and Hyde personality that is uniquely blended with goodness and debauchery. While he does help women with such issues as suffrage in the United States, he also uses his money and power to attract and take advantage of them. The choice of having Buscemi play a conflicted gangster in a work done by Scorsese is perfect, and Thompson is very engaging and complex.
The other characters in “Boardwalk Empire” who surround Thompson include the maturing James “Jimmy” Darmody (played by Michael Pitt). Darmody has just returned from the Great War and wants to help Thompson in his growing organization, but initially makes poor choices that anger Thompson. Another interesting side plot is how Thompson is smitten with the timid and reluctant Margaret Schroeder (played by Kelly MacDonald). Schroeder is the wife of an abusive man who gambles, drinks and beats her in front of their children. She gets help from Thompson, but Schroeder gets more than she bargained for. Most of the people who interact with Thompson serve a great purpose through compelling relationships that also define who he really is.
The theme and setting of the show also help develop Thompson through depth and intrigue. “Boardwalk Empire” features an elaborate style with its bustling boardwalk setting and eye candy collection of costumes that were among the many trends during the 1920s in America. The controversial issues including the previously mentioned prohibition of alcohol and social unrest fit well with Thompson’s conflicts.
While only two episodes have aired, “Boardwalk Empire” has plenty of potential to develop the other characters much further, as Thompson is already being wonderfully fleshed out. Perhaps fans of “The Sopranos” have finally found a Sunday night replacement? I sure have.