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 writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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