Boardwalk Empire: Moving Pictures For Your Television

You know how in the old days people called movies "moving pictures"? I couldn't help but think of the term repeatedly while watching HBO's new series Boardwalk Empire—a drama about Atlantic City and its gangsters during Prohibition—and that's nothing but a compliment.

For one thing, it recalls the era the show depicts, those Roarin' '20s when men said things like "See?" instead of "Do you understand?" When women wore their hair like slick helmets and unhinged their elbows while dancing the Charleston (or other era-equivalents to the Roger Rabbit). When dressing casually meant wearing your unpressed suit. Boardwalk Empire captured the period to a T, thanks to some mighty fine attention to detail and a $20 million estimated budget.

But the term "moving pictures" also means another thing: film. While we've been talking about the blurring of the line between quality television and film over the last few years, no show has made a better case that the small screen can have all the bells and whistles of a cineplex stud, if not more. Boardwalk was glorious to behold—a feast for the eyes, if I may gush just a little bit more. The sets, the costuming, the production... all that was missing was buttery popcorn and an annoying person who decided to sit directly in front of you.

And it was all guided by some of the most trusted hands in the business, Martin Scorsese. The legend directed the show with just as much style as any of his classics, and his eye was unmistakable in the opening and closing irises, the stylish montages, and his timely sound cues.

Scorsese directed the pilot, but other folks are set to helm the rest of the first season's episodes. This begs the question: Can other directors live up to Scorsese's standard? The idea behind Scorsese directing the first episode is to have those who follow emulate his style; the pilot is supposed to serve as a blueprint for what the rest of the series should look like. That said, there's no doubt that every subsequent director will be a Scorsese fan who has always dreamed of copying the master, so I'm guessing there shouldn't be a problem in keeping the quality at least close to par.

I'm not going to discuss the show's plot and characters just yet (though we should start thinking about whether or not Jimmy is a total idiot or just an average idiot); we'll get to that on our second date with Boardwalk Empire, as we still have a long way to go before we see where the series is headed. All you need to know is that it's classic Scorsese: slick-dressed gangsters, brutal poverty, and glorious violence (my DVR rewind button got good use for that close-up shotgun blast). So let's all just bask in the beauty that is its veneer. At least until Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire's Omar) gets more screen time.

What did you think of the Boardwalk Empire premiere? Do you think that the show's subsequent directors will be able to keep up Scorsese's standard?


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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Sep 21, 2010
Best pilot this season? Almost surely, it was excellent. Best show of the season? Still up in the air.
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Sep 21, 2010
I'm not totally convinced yet. I live-blogged the first episode here: http://guiltyfeat.com/2010/09/21/boardwalk-empire-first-impressions/ Let me know what you think. CAUTION: Contains spoilers.
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Sep 21, 2010
It's gonna be simply IMPOSSIBLE to think of a more solid pilot coming out this season than this one... I mean, I watch it TWICE IN A ROW last night!
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Sep 21, 2010
Although, we just saw the pilot episode, but I think that Boardwalk Empire will prove to be very successful. I really liked the first episode and I can't wait to see the next one.
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Sep 21, 2010
I loved it!!!! I have always liked Steve Bucemi, I think he has done an excellent job in everything I have saw him in. I think he is badly underrated as an actor and I think this is his moment to shine. Let everyone see what a good actor he really is. Finally HBO has something worth watching besides True Blood. Not since Deadwood was cancelled after 3 seasons have they had anything I would pay extra for HBO. Lets hope this one has a good run. If junk like Entourage, Hung, Curb your Enthusiasum, can stay on the air surely Boardwalk Empire can. I dont know though Deadwood didnt make it and it was an excellent series, witty dialogue, very real with the time frame it represented. Can you tell I still hold a grudge over that one? Good Luck Boardwalk empire cause people have a taste for s*** and may not appreciate you, and the story your trying to tell.
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Sep 21, 2010
I loved it, I never thought I would actually like Nucky ;)
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Sep 21, 2010
it will probably keep up for the first two seasons, but i think it might fall it apart after that.
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Sep 21, 2010
I agree with ScarletPanda a little. Though, really the only thing that pilot was missing was more Michael Kenneth Williams.
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Sep 21, 2010
I enjoyed the pilot but had trouble at times keeping up with the secondary and side characters.
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