Had Boardwalk Empire premiered in 2000 instead of 2010 – hell, had it premiered in 2005 instead of 2010 – I think we’d think about it very differently. (Or, at the very least, I would think about it differently.) It’s a show full of great actors, with great costumes and sets and a fantastic sense of place. If the CGI is sometimes a little weak, it would have been totally acceptable in the early century.
I think we would have forgiven the complete lack of depth in the writing because everything else about the show is so good. We would have been okay with the massive deviations from history too.
But this show didn’t premiere in 2000 or 20005. It premiered in 2010 – over a decade after The Sopranos began to irrevocably alter the television landscape in terms of production values and “realism” and long after both Deadwood and The Wire set up the idea that dramatic TV shows could, nay should, function as allegories for bigger issues.
Boardwalk Empire heeded the lessons of The Sopranos but not of Deadwood, The Wire, Mad Men or even Breaking Bad. And I guess that’s why I would have forgiven it a lot in 2000 or 2005.
I haven’t seen the first three seasons in quite some time, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint exact moments that disappointed me – with one exception, which I will get to in a moment. I just remember constantly waiting for it to get better. Constantly hoping that the show would be about something more than just bootleggers during the Prohibition Era. And I kept up with it until the end of third season, when I worried that maybe it Jumped the Shark, at least in the mildest of terms. And so I quit the show for a while.
People told me to come back to it and I did. The fourth season felt rather repetitive only this time it was White who had the foil, not Thompson. Other things continued on as usual; too much as usual. It’s like we were reliving everything.It also felt like they were trying to stunt cast their way out of a lack of new things to say: Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Wright, that guy from The Killing.
And though the fifth season feels like Thompson (and others) have undergone some major character development – though they don’t appear to have aged much – and the story seems to finally be significantly different than “Thompson fends off another competitor to the Atlantic City Syndicate” version 5 – at least until they kill off Patricia Arquette’s character and everything goes back to normal – they don’t appear to have come up with enough of a story, as we get flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood constantly and the only reasons I can think of are either because they do not have enough ideas for this plot, or from some kind of misplaced sense of narrative completeness – which is what happens with the dumb finale.
It says something that my favourite moment of this entire show was “Mueller” saying “I for one refuse to be ruled by fear” and then running to heed his wife. It says something else that when Chalky died I didn’t give a shit. I mean, I knew I was supposed, but I just didn’t. And it really doesn’t feel like the right guys come after Nucky. I mean, other people hated him more, right? It really doesn’t make sense. And, finally, the wrapping up, the tying up, whatever you want to call it, feels really laborious. Especially the scene with Gillian.
After two seasons I was going to give it a 7, but can’t even bring myself to do that.