Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season

Steve Buscemi stars in this HBO series that sprang from one of the writers and producers of The Sopranos. Like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire is populated with plenty of underworld thugs, corrupt politicians and immoral businessmen. But although it is set inNew Jersey, this is a period piece, with the first episode taking place in Atlantic City, 1920, on the eve of Prohibition.

 Buscemi plays Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the treasurer of Atlantic City who essentially runs the town. His brother, Eli, is the sheriff and together they look at Prohibition as a windfall opportunity to make a fortune by shipping illegal booze into Atlantic Cityand distributing it throughout the country.

At the time, Atlantic Citywas what Las Vegasis today, a playground for adults with plenty of gambling, drinking, loose women and bawdy entertainment.

The series got a huge shot in the arm when Executive Producer Martin Scorsese agreed to direct the pilot episode. With an incredible attention to detail and a budget of $18 million, that episode, included here, can stand alongside of Scorsese’s theatrical work.

While Buscemi is usually thought of as a supporting player, he handles the lead role with ease. His character is ruthless, complex, and fascinating, although, in comparing him to his counter-part in The Sopranos, Nucky is not as morally divided as Tony Soprano…he seems to have no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to hang on to the power he has built up.

Other notable characters include the young WWI vet Jimmy Darmody, who eventually turns against his former mentor, Nucky. Kelly McDonald plays Margaret Schroeder, an Irish mother, and soon-to-be widow who becomes Nucky’s mistress. She is the series’ most complex character and McDonald plays the part beautifully. Also notable is Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), a Federal agent out to nab Nucky and his cronies, who, despite his strong Protestant ethic, has his own demons to battle.

The writing, set design, acting and directing are top notch through the 12 episodes here. Other feature film directors such as Allen Coulter (Hollywoodland) and Brad Anderson (The Machinist) step in to direct an episode or two from time to time.

While the characters and the storyline are not quite as engrossing as The Sopranos, the series still has plenty going for it, including a liberal dose of sex, drugs, corruption, backstabbing, incest and graphic violence.

The 5-disc set also has plenty of bonus features that help enhance the series. The most illuminating is the commentary by series creator Terence Winter along with cast members including Buscemi. For those interested in the history of Atlantic City, there is a half-hour featurette called Atlantic City: The Original Sin City, that traces the city’s origins back to the 1600s.

Several well-known gangsters populate the series including Al Capone, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. A 30-minute Speakeasy Tour of famous gangster hangouts of the Prohibition Era takes us to some of the old gin-mills still standing inNew York andChicago.

Season One of Boardwalk Empire aired on Sky TV here in New Zealand last year and Season Two is currently running on the Soho Channel. A third season has just been given the go-ahead. It looks like Boardwalk Empire is turning into one of the most impressive and notorious TV series of the decade and this DVD release provides a great opportunity for those who missed its initial airing to get on board.  

Marty Duda