The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blundell

Board­walk Em­pire is an epic tale of crime as the Amer­i­can way of life

in US TV his­tory and the show re­mains sump­tu­ous and cin­e­matic, sim­ply Scors­e­seian. It sucks you right into the end of the Roar­ing 20s, res­ur­rect­ing an era of cor­rupt politi­cos, boot­leg­gers, big bands, roar­ing tommy guns, high-kick­ing show­girls and capri­cious crim­i­nal mas­ter­minds. It’s daz­zling to look at and has op­er­atic style, grand com­pli­cated char­ac­ters and all those con­frontingly vi­o­lent mo­ments straight from the Scors­ese gang­land man­ual.

It has taken a while to de­velop more than a cult fol­low­ing, its box sets only now be­com­ing the rea­son for binge-watch­ing week­ends af­ter new fans have dis­cov­ered it. There’s still an aura sur­round­ing Board­walk as the best show on TV that no one re­ally loves.

With Scors­ese and Win­ter in­volved, it was ex­pected the se­ries would quickly de­velop the ob­ses­sive de­vo­tion that still sur­rounds The So­pra­nos. It’s easy to for­get The So­pra­nos was a slow burner and, lo­cally, it was quickly re­lo­cated to the wit­ness pro­tec­tion times­lot late at night on Nine, an­noy­ing the hell out of the show’s Aus­tralian afi­ciona­dos. And not ev­ery­one was a fan in the US, ei­ther. For many Amer­i­cans, the mob se­ries had over­stayed its wel­come well be­fore the fa­mous fi­nale went to air.

It had be­come too dreamy, crit­ics said, too con­fus­ing, too lit­er­ary. Just as Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola should have left The God­fa­ther alone af­ter part two, per­haps cre­ator David Chase should have let his once in­spired show take a bul­let years ear­lier and let The So­pra­nos qui­etly sleep with the fishes.

To be hon­est, I only dipped in and out of Board­walk my­self, in­ter­mit­tently be­guiled, but I’m now de­ter­mined to watch it to the, well, death. Now, at the be­gin­ning of episode 37, it’s Fe­bru­ary 1924, al­most a year af­ter the ex­plo­sive events of sea­son three’s fi­nal episode, di­rected by So­pra­nos vet­eran Ti­mothy Van Pat­ten.

Nucky has sur­vived the gang war that swept the se­ries, and has per­se­vered through du­plic­i­tous deals and dou­ble deals, mur­der­ous bluffs and counter bluffs, tak­ing out New York gang­ster Joe Masse­ria’s men dur­ing the fi­nal episode in a road­side mas­sacre.

The enig­matic Richard Har­row (Jack Huston), the man with half a face, the rest cov­ered with a kind of plas­tic mask, armed with his sniper ri­fle and an arse­nal of back-up weapons, gunned down nearly all of Giuseppe ‘‘ Gyp’’ Rosetti’s men in the Artemis Club. And Rosetti, bril­liantly played by Bobby Can­navale and largely the fo­cus of the pre­vi­ous sea­son, was knifed to death by one of his own men.

The tagline go­ing into the third sea­son was ‘‘ You can’t be half a gang­ster’’. Nucky’s now be­come the full deal and crossed the line af­ter sur­viv­ing Rosetti’s at­tempt to over­throw his em­pire. As the fourth sea­son starts, he’s alone, a new per­son, lay­ing low at the end of the Board­walk in the grand­est ho­tel. He’s more cal­cu­lat­ing, no more glad-hand­ing, and ob­vi­ously shrewder, think­ing ahead, maybe of Florida; his mar­riage to Mar­garet (Kelly Mac­don­ald) ap­pears to be done for good.

But new chal­lenges en­gulf him in the first episode. A do­mes­tic bat­tle is loom­ing with his brother Eli (Shea Whigham), ri­valry and re­sent­ment lurk­ing be­neath the smil­ing fa­cade of their com­rade­ship. Har­row is mys­te­ri­ously mur­der­ing furtive gun-car­ry­ing busi­ness­men (a su­perb dra­matic open­ing set-piece too). And Nucky fi­nan­cially keeps the peace with the equally un­read­able Masse­ria (Ivo Nandi) while work­ing the odds with fel­low gang­ster Arnold Roth­stein (Michael Stuhlbarg). Mob-crime

SOME call it dryly TV’s ‘‘ bestcu­rated and blood­i­est an­tiques shop’’. But, fi­nally, be­gin­ning its fourth sea­son this week, Board­walk Em­pire is tak­ing a dis­tin­guished place in the 21st cen­tury’s most dis­cussed form of art tele­vi­sion: the lit­er­ary, 12-episode, pre­mium ca­ble se­rial.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s based on the true story of Nucky John­son (played as Nucky Thomp­son by the pal­lidly com­plected Steve Buscemi), the cor­rupt politi­cian who used Pro­hi­bi­tion to turn At­lantic City into his own il­licit em­pire be­tween 1911 and 1941.

Cre­ated by ca­ble net­work HBO, which also gave us The So­pra­nos, The Wire and The Pa­cific, Board­walk Em­pire was in­stantly a crit­i­cal hit and, as it has de­vel­oped through three sea­sons, has slowly gained a pop­u­lar fol­low­ing.

It took a while. It’s sim­ply so dense, so teem­ing with in­ci­dent, rich in de­tail and sprawl­ing with char­ac­ter, so im­plic­itly ab­sorbed with it­self, that it has been easy for ca­sual view­ers to get a bit lost if the show briefly took their fancy. The many char­ac­ters, plots and fore­shad­owed sub­plots are so fleet­ingly in­tro­duced that the se­ries has al­ways re­quired a con­cen­trated form of view­ing.

It’s the brain­child of Ter­ence Win­ter, the writer be­hind The So­pra­nos, and con­sum­mate sto­ry­teller and vis­ual stylist Martin Scors­ese, who has em­braced TV’s dig­i­tal world with­out los­ing any of his tra­di­tional film­mak­ing flu­ency or clas­sic skills. Scors­ese, who re­mains an ac­tive and en­thu­si­as­tic ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer (he also di­rected the first, style-set­ting episode), has de­scribed the se­ries as ‘‘ an epic spec­ta­cle of Amer­i­can his­tory, or cul­ture, I should say, Amer­i­can cul­ture’’.

He meant gang­sters, of course, the auth- en­tic mafia, those some­times mon­strous out­siders, and their at­tempts to gain ac­cep­tance in re­spectable so­ci­ety. And the way the per­va­sive and com­pelling theme of or­gan­ised crime can be read as an al­le­gory of the run­away Amer­i­can quest for wealth and power.

Across 36 episodes so far, Scors­ese and Win­ter have given us an in­spired an­thro­pol­ogy of the mean streets and a kind of ethnog­ra­phy of those Knights of the Crooked Ta­ble who so piti­lessly took over Amer­i­can cities to en­joy the fruits of crime.

It’s a com­plex — highly sen­su­ous in its treat­ment — ex­plo­ration of the way th­ese tribal bar­bar­ians, many of them im­mi­grants, used their skills in vi­o­lence to achieve a level of equal­ity with those of es­tab­lished wealth and power. Board­walk Em­pire is the story re­ally of crime as an Amer­i­can way of life, full of am­ple de­lights and strik­ing just the right strangeness of tone. It poses one great ques­tion: how much sin can any of us live with?

Scors­ese’s was the most ex­pen­sive pilot shot

Board­walk Em­pire

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thomp­son in

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