One of the problems with television, at least in my eyes, is the fixation on procedurals, traditional sitcoms and reality shows. Procedurals have lost all appeal to me, whether it's NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI or any Law and Order spinoff. Traditional sitcom comedies, with laugh tracks, should be dead by now and somehow live on with The Big Bang Theory, Mike and Molly, Two and a Half Men and other half-assed attempts at laughs. And reality shows are self-explanatory.
It's nice when television shows such as "The Sopranos," "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad" are able to step in and bring a sort of cinematic feel to the small screen. Sure, the ratings may not be superb for some of these shows, but the quality speaks for itself. "Boardwalk Empire" is HBO's new drama that seems likely to follow the same path as "The Sopranos": an complex network of characters with different motives, slow-burning plots that take time to build up and bursts of violence. To some, this is different than the non-stop action found on CBS procedural shows and whatnot, but here, it's the show's acting, writing and directing that pulls you in. The Prohibition era is a topic uncovered (or barely uncovered) in television, which makes the show able to cover storylines that feel fresh and interesting.
The pilot is mainly set-up, introducing characters to us so fast we barely can keep track. The main characters seem to be Nucky Thompson and his former protege, Jimmy Durmody (played by Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt respectively). Nucky is the treasurer of Atlantic City and presents two faces to the city: the alcohol-hating man who visits temperance meetings and speaks out against liquor and the half-gangster who is attempting to make money off of Prohibition. Steve Buscemi takes a hold of the role, playing the role fervently and with great energy. You can bet next year that there'll be at least a nomination for him. With the help of his brother, Durmody and dozens of other men, he attempts to bring alcohol to one of America's busiest towns.
Many people will not like the show's slower pace. There's action scenes, sure, but not long, drawn-out gun-fights. There's quick bursts of violence followed by slow tension building. Scorsese is a master of cinema, and his eye for cinematic direction is evident here. Bits and pieces of "Gangs of New York" and "Goodfellas" is evident as we're introduced to the Boardwalk and the different stores of Atlantic City, and each character seems to have a background that will likely be fleshed out as the show goes on.
As of right now, we're inclined to side with Nucky and Michael, both men who are (as Durmody mentions near the end) "half-gangsters." Nucky is a treasurer as well as a man profiting off of Prohibition, while Durmody is a WW1 veteran who is looking to get back into business with Nucky. Together, these two lead a cast that ranges from Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) as a police officer tracking down people who go against Prohibition to Kelly MacDonald as a battered wife named Margeret Schroder who forms a bond with Nucky Thompson.
I've already heard some people saying they cannot get into it, but it makes me wonder how a show as wonderfully filmed and acted as this can be passed over and described as dull when there's shows out there (NCIS, CSI) that are spewing out the same plots with different characters every week. There's a reason why shows sometimes pass up action and violence for slow simmering tension (just look at "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad") "Boardwalk Empire" is intense, interesting and seems to be headed down a similar path as "The Sopranos." I'm already hooked, and hopefully the ratings reflect the show's quality.