By Darren Franich
November 08, 2010 at 05:40 PM EST
  • TV Show

Image Credit: HBOIs Boardwalk Empire a good show? HBO spent mega-millions on the period-piece mob drama, and instantly renewed it for second season when the Scorsese-directed premiere averaged 4.8 million viewers. But ratings have dropped over the last couple months (last Sunday’s episode, the seventh of the season, had 2.6 million viewers — not bad, but not Sopranos.) On a deeper level, Boardwalk doesn’t seem to have the watercooler appeal of, say, Mad Men, the other lavishly-designed boozy historical drama created by a Sopranos writer. Boardwalk would appear to have something for everyone — mob violence, cutting dialogue, an endless parade of female and male nudity. It’s history porn in both senses of the word. But is Boardwalk Empire entertaining you?

I’m a total history nut, and one of the main reasons I enjoy watching the show is that it has a ridiculously expansive vision of Prohibition history. But you could certainly make the case that a better title for Boardwalk Empire is Lots of Things that Gangsters Did in the Twenties. This ain’t Deadwood, the HBO Western that viewed another flux period in American history through the limited perspective of a tiny frontier village. Boardwalk flips back and forth pretty frequently from Atlantic City to Chicago and New York. Characters don’t just talk about future President Warren G. Harding — they meet the guy, and his illegitimate love child. It reminds me a little bit of Rome, which might be my favorite HBO show.

But plenty of people hated Rome. And, as Ken Tucker pointed out in his premiere review, the show’s Atlantic City isn’t quite distinctive yet — which can make Boardwalk feel a little bit like a show without a center. (To pick just one example, Michael Stuhlbarg’s Arnold Rothstein literally gets one scene per episode. The character seems to exist purely as a showcase for incredible acting. Then again, you could say the same thing about Sue Sylvester.)

To me, Boardwalk Empire feels like a show that’s trying to fuse two very different HBO traditions: the American Dream-deconstructing drama (Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood) and the juicy premium-cable adult delight (Entourage, True Blood, Sex and the City.) In a single scene, you’re presented with the utter moral decline of American politics and Paz de la Huerta’s utterly naked body. Last week’s episode featured a lesbian twist — why not? A few weeks earlier, little-person boxers went on strike — why not?

I kind of like the carnivalesque atmosphere. Do you, PopWatchers? Are you watching Boardwalk Empire? Do you think the show lives up to its iconic HBO brethren? Was it always going to be difficult to live up to that other New Jersey mob show? Am I the only one who really digs all the political stuff?

Steve Buscemi stars in HBO’s sprawling Prohibition drama set in Atlantic City.
  • TV Show
  • 5
  • 09/19/10
  • On Hiatus
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