For years now I’ve been yearning for some HBO programming that is on the same level as Oz, The Sopranos or even Deadwood. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a top notch drama series from the network but luckily, in 2010, that void was filled. Terence Winter’s Boardwalk Empire arrived in 2010 and with it came an utterly compelling show that gave audiences a look at Atlantic City during the 1920’s Prohibition Era.
A fascinating and undeniably historically accurate series, Boardwalk Empire while slow at the start, pays off in spades for those who stick with it till the end. Its first season was an absolute gem and in the wake of its recent second season finale, which was absolutely excellent, the show is earning even more attention. Like the networks other historical drama, Rome, this is a marvellous period piece that reminds us why it’s not television, it’s HBO.
Steve Buscemi stars as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a corrupt Atlantic City politician who also happens to be a racketeer and bootlegger. With Prohibition taking hold, Nucky dives right into the liquor trade. While at first it seems like a sound idea, it doesn’t take too long for other like minded individuals to hop on the train and soon Nucky finds himself facing competition from gangsters that boast names like Capone and Lansky as well as pressure from law enforcement agents who are determined to bring Nucky’s operations to an end.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing at hand here. There’s war veteran Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) who is Nucky’s right hand man and is busy battling his own demons while struggling to fit back into normal life, as well as a whole host of other colorful characters.
We have straight-laced prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), sheriff Eli (Shea Whigham), who just so happens to be Nucky’s brother and Mrs. Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), a woman Nucky becomes involved with after murdering her husband, among others.
What immediately sticks out here, like with AMC’s Mad Men, is the rich sense of period, which comes through in every single shot. It’s not only the costumes and sets that help with this, it’s every last detail that contributes to this richness. Real life figures from the time period appear frequently and real life events are referenced all the time. The painstaking effort that has gone into recreating this time period really shows and it truly is impressive.
Character development is the star here and every character in Boardwalk Empire is so fully realized and well crafted that you can’t help but to be compelled by just about every major player in the show. The tightly woven stories all flow together, shaping a story that is more about politics and business rather than shootouts and gang violence. It would have been easy to turn some of these characters into one dimensional stereotypes but that’s not the case here. Each one is so meticulously fleshed out and has so much to invest in that you’ll feel a connection to almost all of them.
Boardwalk Empire works on just about every level. Whether it’s the lavish production design, the flawless recreation of the time period, the top notch acting or the compelling storylines, everything comes together wonderfully to create a truly memorable show. It’s a fascinating look into the political and criminal world of 1920’s Atlantic City and it is far and away one of television’s best new series.
HBO provides a spectacular Blu-Ray transfer that fans of the show will be drooling over. In fact, this could probably be considered demo material, it’s that good. The picture is damn near perfect, with the lavish production design popping off the screen, showing off excellent colour, clarity and contrast. Closeups reveal astonishing levels of detail and textures are appropriately refined.
Aurally, the show impresses as well. Perfectly prioritized dialogue makes it easy to keep up with what’s going on as engaging ambience, roaring music and immersive directional effects all pound through the speakers. The apt soundtrack sounds phenomenal as do effects like gunfire and explosions.
- Enhanced Viewing Mode: A fantastic picture in picture mode that features interviews, production details and more. We get a look at the making of the show as each feature takes us deep into the production and development. A great feature for those wanting to see how the show came together.
- Character Dossier (HD): A useful feature that helps viewers keep up with all the characters and how they are all related.
- Audio Commentaries: Six commentaries with various cast and crew, all excellent and all worth listening to.
- Atlantic City: The Original Sin City: A great 30 minute documentary that gives us a very interesting look at Atlantic City in the 1920s. It’s a great supplement to the show as we get a bit more history on the era and can appreciate the show that much more.
- Speakeasy Tour: A historical based feature that looks at Chicago and New York during the Prohibition by revisiting locations and exploring some of the history behind them.
- Making Boardwalk Empire: For those who don’t want to watch the picture in picture mode, this is a nice 20 minute overview of the making of the show and while not as detailed and informative as the Enhanced Viewing Mode, it’s a nice feature for those who don’t have the time to watch all the EVM content.
- Creating the Boardwalk: A quick five minute behind the scenes feature.
When it comes to television shows on Blu-Ray, it doesn’t get much better than Boardwalk Empire. HBO has done a tremendous job here and has provided us with an excellent package that really, you can’t go wrong with. Things get off to a bit of a slow start but trust me when I say stick with it, if you do, you’ll be rewarded greatly.
Boardwalk Empire is so fully realized and well crafted that you can’t help but to be compelled by just about every major player in the show.