This year is going to suck.
No, it’s not because I’m about to enter the last year of my 20s. No, it’s not because the Cowboys are EATING IT in the pre-season. And, no, it’s not because Kyle Rayner STILL doesn’t have a proper solo book (…preferably written by me). No, no, no, this year is going to be awful because one of my favorite TV shows is about to enter its final season: HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
I’m not upset that it’s ending. All good things and all that. Instead, I’m upset because yet again we have a show that’s given us everything we ask for in television shows and nobody freaking watched it. We crave brainy, truly thought-provoking sci-fi and Battlestar Galactica gets an abbreviated run. We desire comedy that doesn’t play to the lowest common denominator, that actually respects us enough to ask us to pay attention, and we barely get three seasons of Arrested Development. We dream of these shows every time we have to suffer through someone saying The Big Bang Theory is the greatest comedy since Dharma and Greg, and yet, when they’re on, we often can’t be bothered.
And here we are again. A show having to take a bow long before its should-be curtain call and nobody has made a big stink about it.
Well, today I’m gonna be stinky.
If you’re unaware (and you probably are! rargh!) Boardwalk Empire takes place in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era in the United States. Atlantic City City Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is a pillar of the community by day and one of the country’s biggest bootleggers by night. Throughout the series, Nucky has to face the realities of operating a massive illegal operation all the while balancing personal, romantic, and familial relationships. Call it the 1920s answer to Breaking Bad. Only I might say this show is better.
You see, while the setup and backdrop are all very interesting, I believe Boardwalk Empire shines in a way that most shows don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I adore razor-sharp writing and flawless plots as much as the next viewer (and don’t worry, BE’s got them, too), but I think the show’s greatest skill is that it takes chances.
Taking chances is an underrated attribute. Plenty of shows flirt with it, but it’s rare to find a show that makes as regular a habit of it as Boardwalk. No two seasons are alike. Sure, characters crossover, and the whole bootlegging thing is always present, but in many ways that’s it. The show has undergone multiple phase shifts and you wouldn’t recognize the show from its first season to its most recent. It’s not afraid to rock the boat. Hell, it’s not afraid to capsize the boat and make everyone swim to shore. Remember when Lost got stale? Remember when Seinfeld had the Frogger episode? That never happens here.
For a lot of period pieces, story lines will often revolve around characters coming to terms with changes happening in society around them. Boardwalk, however, is a lot less precious with this and instead shows how these changes are already in effect and often not going well. Drug addiction, homosexuality, antisemitism, gender roles, classism, and others have been featured throughout Boardwalk. But, usually, pretty subtly. This is not a flashy show that MAKES AN ISSUE ABOUT THINGS. This is a show that reflects how life is: often muddled, extremely subjective, and rarely neat. Nothing is ever wrapped in a bow here.
I’ve heard people complain that Boardwalk Empire is too much of a slow burn for them to get into, and I suppose I can see what they mean, but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. The show definitely takes its time. No, this show does not open up with a man speeding through the desert in his underwear. No, this show does not have larger-than-life, flamboyant gangsters cursing and philandering every other scene. Yes, it’s sophisticated, and, yes, it’s intelligent. But why have those become bad words? It’s not snobbish, it’s just polished. How often have you sat through an awful movie bored to tears because the dialogue is dumb and the plots are featherweights? That is laziness. Instead, Boardwalk Empire is refined, mature, adult storytelling that never panders and always presents quality television craftsmanship. If that’s boring to you, I hear there’s a new CSI premiering. Knock yourself out.
I know, I know, I sound like an elitist and I hate it but I hate it even more that I know that this show is going to come and go and probably receive little more than a pat on the back on the way out. How this show hasn’t conquered the Emmys is beyond me. If you love how Mad Men flawlessly recreates the 60s, Boardwalk does it just as well with the 20s. If you can’t get enough of Bryan Cranston’s sublime acting as anti-hero turned pretty much villain Walter White, my oh my wait until you get a load of Bobby Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti. In my opinion: the greatest villain in television history. This show deserves to sing and dance in the spotlight but instead it has a few candles flickering in the background.
It’s not fair. Shows like Boardwalk Empire give me hope for the future of television. Unceremonious final seasons like the one it’s receiving makes that hope vanish. If this masterpiece is going out with barely a whimper from the critics and general television audiences, then why would networks try to make another when shows of lower quality are much more successful? Scary questions.
Okay, enough of that. More gushing.
You like Steve Buscemi? You only think you do. Boardwalk Empire will completely transform how you view this actor who usually plays overtly abrasive or goofball characters. As Nucky Thompson, Buscemi is cooler than frozen ice and, at times, utterly terrifying. Buscemi has put forth a master class in acting with his work on this show. Really, it’s an evolutionary leap for the guy from character actor to stone-fox leading man. And ladies (or fellas), my significant has told me more than once how attractive she finds him on the show. Yes, this is still Steve Buscemi we’re talking about. And guess what? I completely agree.
You like the ugly side of American history? That could easily be an alternate title for this show. Or “How the Government Organized Crime.” Wanna see James Cromwell be a dick. Sure ya do! Stick around. Ready to fall in love with a five foot tall British man playing Al Capone? Just you wait. Oh, and there’s a butler who may be better than Alfred.
Oh, and that cast. Michael Shannon’s brilliance is only matched by Kelly Macdonald’s is only matched by Michael Stuhlberg’s is only matched by Michael K. Williams’. They’re all stellar.
Oh, and Richard. Oh, Richard…
Look, Unrealtors, I could lionize this show all day long, but by all means, go see for yourself. I’m sure you know someone who knows someone who will let you borrow their mom’s HBOGO account. The whole show is there, get caught up.
And then weep with me as the opening credits start this Sunday for the first step of the last walk on the Boardwalk.
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City, as well as in Canada and Japan.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over Level 2, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameoverlevel2.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.