Boardwalk Empire - The Complete Season One

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 24, 2012

With "Boardwalk Empire," "Sopranos" alum Terence Winter re-creates a fascinating place and time: Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1920, at the start of Prohibition.

This lavishly produced and smartly written HBO series explores the Pandora's box of underworld intrigue and illicit wealth that the outlawing of liquor made possible, introducing famous gangland figures like Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) at the very start of their respective careers. As famous as those gangsters were bound to become, it's Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi), the local official who runs Atlantic City (a character based on the real-life Nucky Johnson) who is at the center of the show.

Nucky is powerful locally and influential in national affairs; Season One, now available on DVD, traces his involvement in presidential politics, but also builds a story around his ties at home. Nucky is generous to the poor, but it's as much a matter of pragmatism as magnanimity: he's essentially buying votes.

One recipient of his beneficence is Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), an Irish immigrant married to an abusive man. As Nucky draws closer to Margaret, he also balances other obligations--including to his former mentor Louis Kaestner (Dabney Coleman), a.k.a. "The Commodore," as well as to a young World War I veteran named Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and Jimmy's showbiz mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol).

Nucky also has a tempestuous relationship with actress Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta), a love triangle that is reflected in a dark, repressed way with the entry of a religious, and erratic, government agent, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), who has his own strange ties to both women.

"Boardwalk Empire" has recently concluded its second season, with shocking twists galore; this first season DVD set will clue in latecomers as to what the buzz is all about.

The set comes with a few decent special features, including Character Dossiers, featurettes packed with fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses on creating the show (the real Atlantic City boardwalk was eight miles long; the vast exterior set, built in Brooklyn, is nowhere near that large but CGI expands the set and erases skyscrapers that are part of the modern New York City skyline) and historical information about the characters and the city itself ("The Original Sin City").

There are also episode commentary tracks (Winter guides us through the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot episode).

There are more than a few echoes of "The Sopranos" here (Winter was a producer on that show; Buscemi had a recurring role; the writing features a similar blend of comedy, drama, sex, and violence) but "Boardwalk Empire" is very much its own story, and a well-told one at that. Fans of the period, or of gangster films, or of well-made television in general, will find this set essential.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.