The Buscemi Conundrum: Thoughts on “Boardwalk Empire”


A while back, I talked about The Walking Dead, and briefly alluded to Boardwalk Empire, another show that I thought was deeply flawed and wildly overpraised. Since Boardwalk Empire isn’t about zombies and features lots of well-known film actors, it’s a virtual lock to win Best TV Drama at The Emmys. Anything with a film pedigree gives Emmy voters a hard-on, and when your show is produced by Martin Scorcese, they may as well just send you the award now. I can already imagine the sycophantic caterwauling that will take place in viewing rooms throughout LA during voting time. (Does TV have an academy? Maybe it’s more like a nice community college.)

However, Boardwalk Empire has ultimately left me cold. It has several terrific elements going for it: An intriguing tale of gangsters and corruption set during an actual historical period, production values that are unparalleled on television (save for HBO’s new Game of Thrones), and a cast filled with ringers, from Michael Shannon to Kelly McDonald to Michael Pitt to Gretchen Mol to Michael Williams to Michael Stuhlbarg to Steve Buscemi..

Ah yes, Buscemi. Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, a criminal kingpin that rules Atlantic City with an iron fist. Thompson is a ruthless power broker that’s able to bed any dame that he sees. I repeat, this character is played by Steve Buscemi. I have nothing against Buscemi, and I get that he’s luring his women with power, but when Paz De La Huerta (whose main skill as an actress seems to be performing naked) is draped all over the Sheemster, there’s a cognitive dissonance there that I can’t wrap my mind around. This site I just discovered doesn’t help, either.

Buscemi’s a fantastic actor, and I have no doubt he could beat the crap out of me (dude WAS a firefighter, after all), but he doesn’t have the imposing presence that I’m used to seeing out of my fictional crime lords. Maybe I was spoiled by James Gandolfini.

It doesn’t help that Michael Shannon’s on the show, and his evil, crazy-eyed glare threatens to burn a whole in my TV each time he’s on the screen. Even in this instance, the casting feels odd to me, mainly because Michael Shannon is playing a cartoon character, a loonball madman that wouldn’t be on the streets, much less in the FBI. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was a more realistic depiction of someone involved in the legal system.

The best moment of the season came from a speech by Michael Williams (OMAR!) about his father building shelves. It was one of the best seasons of the last year on TV, and while the second half of the season picked up, I must confess: That’s the only dialogue I remember from the season. After that, Williams didn’t even really do much, I don’t think. Despite my reservations about the casting, the real flaw of Boardwalk Empire is simple: I remember the production design more than I remember the storylines.

Boardwalk Empire [Blu-ray]


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