12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HBO's Atlantic City Hit Raises The Drama, Tension, And Betrayal In A Season That Redefines Major Characters And Relationships,
This review is from: Boardwalk Empire Season 2 (Amazon Instant Video)
Certainly one of the most admired shows on the 2010 television schedule, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" boasted the year's most impressive pedigree with Martin Scorsese taking a production credit and even directing the pilot episode (for which he won an Emmy). This brain child of Terrence Winter, a primary creative force and writer for "The Sopranos," adapted the Nelson Johnson non-fiction work chronicling the sordid history of Atlantic City into a masterful blend of fact and fantasy. Embraced by mainstream critics and viewers alike, "Boardwalk Empire" picked up a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Program and acting honors for lead Steve Buscemi at both the Globes and the SAG awards for its debut season. And yet, if I'm being completely honest, while I issued my highest recommendation for the artistry of Season One--it always connected more with my intellectual side, but never quite my heart. Season Two, however, became my passion in 2011. With richer characterizations, plot developments rivaling any Greek tragedy, and a stunning season capper--"Boardwalk Empire," in its second season, was as thrilling and riveting as any show on TV.
Taking the relationships that were developed in Season One, "Boardwalk Empire" raised the stakes for just about everyone in these twelve episodes. I won't discuss many specifics or reveal any surprises, but the show struck gold when it turned its leads Steve Buscemi (as Atlantic City politico Nucky Thompson) and Michael Pitt (as his surrogate son and primary enforcer) from a mentor/student bond to outright rivals. Most of the episodes capitalize on this split, as major characters are forced to align themselves on one side or the other. And this power struggle brought new depth, new cunning, new betrayal, and new ambitions to the surface in a variety of ways to the principle cast. The dramatic arc of the season was bigger, more emotional, and more surprising than anything I had anticipated. There were at least three moments as the show neared its season conclusion where my jaw just dropped and I sat in stunned silence. The show was certainly true to the ruthlessness of the era and was wildly unpredictable.
Buscemi, in particular, had a stellar year. As his professional world crumbled around him in light of numerous legal woes--Buscemi had a quiet intensity that was riveting to watch. You don't become boss, after all, by just giving up! Pitt, a little passive in Season One, took on a stronger role--torn between various factions, but trying to negotiate just what was right or what he could live with. Kelly Macdonald, as Nucky's main squeeze, finally had to fully accept her place in this criminal world from which she was benefiting. It was very refreshing! Gretchen Mol (as Pitt's mother, though in real life she is only 8 years his senior) broke out as a true power player and was fantastic! Shea Whigham (as Buscemi's brother) tried to emerge from Nucky's shadow in perhaps the show's most undervalued performance. And Michael Shannon (as the agent obsessed with Buscemi) continued to face the repercussions of his bad acts in Season One. Along with great supporting bits, including my favorite Dabney Coleman, the terrific Michael Kenneth Williams and scene-stealing Jack Huston, newcomers Charlie Cox and Julianne Nicholson scored big as well.
There was never any doubt that "Boardwalk Empire" was one of the best cast and acted dramas on television. But every major character, and most minor ones as well, were given a chance to shine in a year that raised the dramatic stakes, moral compromise, and naked aggression to stunning new heights. Operatic in its grandeur, unapologetic in its viciousness--anyone that was put off by the slow build tension of Season One should appreciate how well that investment has paid off in an unforgettable second year! Serious drama for adults (and one of the most spectacular visual shows from the period recreation standpoint), "Boardwalk Empire" has always engaged my brain--but this year, my heart is fully along for the ride. KGHarris, 12/11.