The TV Show Backfire: Boardwalk Empire Hasn’t Lived Up To The Hype (Martin Scorsese, Steve Buscemi, Kelly McDonald, Terence Winter)

In the fall of 2010, Boardwalk Empire debuted and was supposed to be a colossal sensation according to the critics. The hype it was receiving was justifiable because Martin Scorsese, one of the best directors ever, was named director and Terrence Winter, who wrote one of the most well-received tv-shows ever, was named the writer. Oddly enough, people thought Steve Buscemi couldn’t play the lead role because of his acting success being based on comedy movies. Of course, any avid movie-watcher knows that is nonsense as he played tremendous non-comedic roles in both Reservoir Dogs and Fargo. In fact, I would go on a limb and say that Steve Buscemi is one of the most versatile actors ever. If he just stayed away from Adam Sandler’s abominable movies, I believe more people would realize it. Therefore, I believed (and still do) that Steve Buscemi was a perfect choice for the role. Anyhow, as if I was not enthusiastic enough due to the hype, I heard the first episode cost 18 million dollars (the most spent on a pilot ever). That news literally had me counting down the days, anticipating perhaps the greatest drama tv-series ever.

I certainly like a lot of things about the show – for instance, the acting is top-notch because essentially everyone portrays their character convincingly. In fact, the acting, clothing, setting, music, weapons, and the way the characters talk, makes it feel like a reality television show in the 1920s. Most of the good aspects are because of Martin Scorsese. He knows exactly how to make scenes exceptionally intense and vivid, knows how to shoot the finest camera angles, and knows how to get the best out of his actors/actresses. Indisputably, he is a master of filmography and a marvelous instructor. However, after watching two whole seasons and the première, I am utterly disappointed.

At first, I thought Terrence Winter marinating the storylines was brilliant, particularly because too many television shows rush into the action, and the problem with a lot of action is it loses it merit. I’ll use an example: There are two men fighting that you have no idea about . Then, there is a battle between someone the audience hates vs. someone they love. The first fight has better effects and looks more realistic, but chances are most people will be emotionally attached to the latter because of the developments to the characters’ roles. In other words, developing characters’ roles gradually allows the audience to become more emotionally attached to them.

When a storyline keeps building, the audience become intrigued and anticipates seeing the climax – which is a strong point of Boardwalk Empire. However, a show that gradually builds their stories needs a great climax. And this is where the show lacks —they spend all this time building up these intriguing stories and then have some fall flat. Like I said, it’s is good to have timing for the action because is mostly about why and when you do it, but there isn’t enough of a balance between talking and action. The pace is also constantly tedious. Some of the shows honestly drag worse than a piece of metal hanging off a car going down the highway. And, sometimes the show is convoluted and hard to follow for the average viewer. They should cut down on the storylines and stick to the important ones.

In season one, it felt like the feds were Nucky Thomson’s biggest arch-rival. The lead man after Thomson was Nelson Van Alden, a man who lived such a structured life that it turned him insane. They spent all this time building him getting close to catching Thomson, and then struck gold when he found a frustrated Lucy Danzinger after being dumped by Thomson. This foreshadowed that Alden would find out secrets about Thomson that she knew. Instead, they stuck Alden in this “Days of Our Lives” tacky soap opera where he gets Danzinger pregnant and then his wife finds out, and to make matters worse, he drowned his Jewish partner by baptizing  him. This led to him losing his duties as a federal agent. No, I didn’t make that up.

Speaking of killing an interesting character, the death of Jimmy Darmody was certainly a controversial decision. Even though it was unpredictable and surprising, it was still nonsensical to write-off one of the most complex/intriguing characters. It would be like ordering a pizza and receiving a newspaper; you would be surprised, but it wouldn’t make sense and you probably wouldn’t order from there again. In other words, they did something to surprise the fans just for the sake of doing it. Additionally, they invested so much time building up this vexatious alliance of people who were, at least in their eyes, treated poorly by Nucky. Hell, even Eli Thomson, Nucky’s brother, was united in it, which built tension that you could cut with a knife.

The entire alliance was extremely intriguing and  led to what seemed to be the major turning-point of the show – Manny Horvitz  realized Darmody sent people to kill him, so he tried to get back at him by shooting him in his house. And while Darmody wasn’t home, his wife was home cheating on him with another women. So, Horvitz killed both women. After Jimmy found out, his mom, Gillian was scheming an idea to tell his Jimmy’s kids. She said to tell them she went to France and over time they’ll eventually forget about her – which  made Jimmy so furious that he started choking his own mother while saying, “I’ll remember”. Louis Kaestner, who raped Gillian and was Jimmy’s father, saved Jimmy from choking her to death by stabbing him with a spear and then choking him with it. Jimmy desperately took out his knife that he keeps on his shoe and stabbed him in the gut. Gillian, who was always bitter about Kaestner raping her and is completely insane,  told Jimmy to finish him and, as a result, Jimmy killed his dad.

Everything worked in this scene – the directing, acting and writing, and it was certainly the apex of the show and seemingly the turning-point. But, everyone decided to put their tails between their legs, and begged Nucky for forgiveness. They could’ve built a giant feud between Nucky’s alliance and Jimmy’s alliance. They perfectly explained why everyone went back to Nucky – because he blocks business off and makes a deal with the IRA for liquor. But, just because they logically explained it doesn’t diminish that they ruined a potentially money-making storyline.

There were also sub-plots involved that were interesting, such as Margret Schroeder realizing she was dating a murder and sleeping with Nucky’s IRA guy, Owen Slater.  Though, they both ended disappointingly. It was shocking that they had Nucky marry her so soon, considering this is such a slowly developing show, and they dropped the Schroeder and Slater story.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think this is a bad show. The character developments, acting, directing, and setting are all magnificent. But the writing is inconsistent. Due to the hype, it should be better. People have said you cannot compare Breaking Bad to Boardwalk Empire because they’re like comparing apples to bananas. I don’t see why, though. Breaking Bad, a non-premium channel show, will go down as one of the most layered and logically explained written shows ever. In contrast, Boardwalk Empire, a premium channel show, with a bigger budget, and one of the best directors ever, yet the writing pales in comparison. Season 3’s première has developed interesting storylines, but frankly, unless this show improves in the writing department, it will be known unfortunately as an over-hyped disappointment due to its expectations.

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