Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boardwalk View from Across the Pond

Under the boardwalk

Chris Philpott – View from Abroad

Today marks a week since Sky's new SoHo channel came on the air, launching with repeats of Mad Men and The Sopranos, and new episodes of Game of Thrones. How much have you been watching the new channel? What shows are you most excited to see? Or waiting to see in the next week or so?

I'm going to try not to blog about SoHo too often since not everyone has Sky, but Boardwalk Empire is too good to ignore. In the past week I've watched Game of Thrones, Rescue Me, Weeds, How To Make It in America, Six Feet Under, and TV movies Too Big To Fail and Superheroes, as well as a few other bits and pieces.

One of the shows I've been most excited to see isBoardwalk Empire, the period drama set during America's prohibition era and starring Steve Buscemi, which started last night with a two-hour premiere. SoHo also showed the entire first series over the weekend, which was a decent opportunity to think back over the tale of Nucky Thompson so far.

It seems to me that Boardwalk Empire isn't really about Nucky, per se. He's a known quantity - the poster boy for the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely", the man who automatically hands out cash as a way of making problems disappear (and how interesting it was that his solution to Teddy Schroeder's foray into pyromania was to hand him some cash and say "don't get caught, kid"), the politician who doesn't truly care about anyone except himself; as he said to Margaret during the first series, after she admitted she was being selfish, "I never hold that against anyone."*

Far more interesting are characters like Jimmy Darmody (the incomparable Michael Pitt), Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald), and creepy prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), each of whom has undergone radical changes since arriving in Atlantic City and falling in with Mr Thompson.

The entire first season was about the story of each character - Darmody, the former soldier who becomes a violent henchman; Schroeder, the morally upstanding citizen who ends up turning a blind eye to the immoral behaviour of her sugar-daddy; and Van Alden, the staunchly Protestant man who falls into temptation, self-flagellates to a photo of Schroeder**, kills a co-worker, and impregnates Nucky's former mistress (and as we saw last night, is hiding that fact from his wife).
The thing they all have in common is that they've been changed, even irreparably damaged, by their association with Nucky Thompson - and while Nucky is the sun at the centre of this solar system, their journeys are what keeps me interested in the show. Sure, it's interesting to watch a dramatisation of the early years of prohibition and the gangster resurgence of the 1920s, but it's always investment in characters that keeps me coming back.

In a way, that's the real genius of Boardwalk Empire. It tells the tale of prohibition from the viewpoint of those trying to skirt the law, implying that we're meant to sympathise with the crooks, while simultaneously showing us the downside of getting involved in that lifestyle.

When we see Margaret deceiving election fraud investigators against her better judgment or see Van Alden showing his wife around before going back to Lucy (as we saw last night), it's clear that downside is, and those characters are, infinitely more interesting.

A few other quick thoughts before wrapping this up:

- Richard Harrow might be one of the most interesting characters on the show - he certainly became a favourite of mine last season, despite only a few short appearances. But that scrapbook he's keeping, with pictures of happy families glued into a Bible, can't be too healthy, right? I'm predicting an episode where he takes Angela and Tommy hostage and drives them to Detroit or something.

- Van Alden's wife is surely the biggest wet blanket in the world, right? Though Michael Shannon might be the standout performer in the series - last night being no exception. His droll delivery of the line "I'm sorry you had to see that", after Mrs Van Alden merely saw a list of wet venues, showed even he was enthusiastic for a weekend with his wife as I'd be with a weekend of Masterchef Australia reruns.

- Last, before you get excited about the Commodore's takeover of the boardwalk, don't forget that Nucky outsmarted him once before, plus Jimmy and Eli aren't the most reliable sidekicks - I think the odds are in Nucky' favour at this point.

What did you think of last night's Boardwalk Empire? Is the show more interesting because of Nucky Thompson, or because of the Jimmys, Margarets and Van Aldens of the show? And how much have you watched on SoHo in the past week?

(*) Before you say "oi, Nucky looked after Jimmy and looks after Margaret, he cares about them", even those examples are selfish acts - Nucky just wants to feel as though he has a son after his own was taken from him.

(**) One of the most disturbing scenes in the first series, and so much worse than anything else he might have done while looking at that photograph. By the way, is his marriage to Mrs Van Alden the most bizarre marriage ever shown on television? I dare you to try and name a marriage that was more dysfunctional.

Al Capone & Nucky Johnson

Jack Dempsy on the Boards

Lansky & Lucky

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"

The Real Lucky Luciano

The Real Meyer Lansky

Jimmy in Babetts & Plot Lines

BOARDWALK EMPIRE 2.07 'Peg of Old'
Margaret attempts to reconnect with her family while Nucky gets the best of Van Alden.
By Hilary Rothing

November 07, 2011
Episode Title: 'Peg of Old'
Writers: Howard Korder & Steve Kornacki & Bathsheba Doran
Director: Allen Coulter
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire":
After getting a distressing phone call from her husband, Rose Van Alden arrived in Atlantic City, just in time to meet her husband's mistress and new baby. Owen Sleater made a pass at Margaret while Nucky faced a setback in his election fraud case with a new federal prosecutor taking him on. Elsewhere, Jimmy made a deal with Rothstein's men to undercut both their bosses.

Nucky (Steve Buscemi) stops by Jack Dempsey's training camp to ask him to promote a radio broadcast of his upcoming fight. Meanwhile, Van Alden (Michael Shannon) returns home to an angry Lucky Danzinger (Paz de la Huerta), demanding the money he promised her.

At the Commodore's, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and Richard (Jack Huston) meet with Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks). The group decides that Nucky must be killed, at the unlikely urging of his brother, Eli (Shea Whigham). Jimmy is resistant to the idea, instead preferring to have Nucky jailed and replaced by a man of their choosing. However, the gangsters insist on offing him.

Van Alden returns to the office to find his desk overtaken by Assistant Attorney General, Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson), the new prosecutor on Nucky's case. Elsewhere, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) visits her brother and sisters in Brooklyn.

Nucky's lawyer tells him about Randolph taking on his case. However, the two are soon interrupted by Lucy, asking for money to help take care of her newborn daughter.

Jimmy tells Gillian (Gretchen Mol) he's conflicted about taking out Nucky, however she encourages him to follow through for fear of appearing weak to his new partners.

After getting a call, Van Alden meets with Nucky, who offers him financial support in exchange for info on Randolph's case. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Margaret and her brother, Eamonn have a frank discussion about the circumstances of her coming to America.

Van Alden returns home after his meeting with Nucky to find a neighbor taking care of his daughter and Lucy gone. The next day, he tells Randolph about his personal situation and hands over a massive file on Nucky's illegal activities.

Margaret meets with her younger sister, Aelish to give her a book. However, she's soon greeted by Eamonn who tells her not to come back.

Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) stops by a bar, where he encounters an acquaintance from Ireland. After offering to buy the man a drink, Owen follows him into the bathroom, where he strangles him to death, calling the dead man a traitor.

At Babette's, Jack Dempsey promotes his upcoming fight as Nucky and Eddie (Anthony Laciura) look on. Jimmy makes his way through the crowd and approaches Nucky, telling him "it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, you just have to make a decision." Just then a man shoots Nucky in the hand before getting shot down himself by the agent Randolph assigned to tail Nucky.

Margaret comes home to find the house empty, except for Owen. After a tense conversation, the two go up to her bedroom and begin to make love, but not before Margaret warns him not to speak of the encounter ever again.

With so many great characters in its orbit, "Boardwalk Empire" sometimes feels like its never getting anywhere with any of them. Which is why this Margaret Schroeder-centric episode worked so well, on so many levels.

Not only did we delve deeper into Margaret/Peg's past but there was also some great movement on a number of fronts. Jimmy struggled with putting a hit on Nucky, while continuing to squirm under his mother's oppressive thumb, Van Alden, humiliated before Nucky, came clean to Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph and Lucy apparently skipped town. Oh and Margaret and Owen finally got it on.

On that note, it was quite poignant when Owen called Margaret out on her coolness. After spending the day with her family, we learn more about what's hardened her heart. And with old wounds freshly salted by her brother, while her heart breaks for her younger sisters who barely know her, Margaret's coldness towards Owen is more than apropos. She tells Owen she is not at all how he sees her shortly after her bother Eamonn cruelly sends her off, saying "there's no one here who knows you here." As a third party privy to all Margaret's interactions, I'm not sure anyone truly knows her, but I do feel I understand her better after this hour.

Like Jimmy Darmody, Van Alden struggled with what to do about Nucky. There were some great scenes for Michael Shannon this week. Van Alden's probably the most rigid straight man on the boardwalk, which is why newcomer Esther Randolph's sarcastic barbs actually had me laughing, for once, at this show. And just the thought of Nucky offering Van Alden a drink because "if there was ever a time" was perhaps his finest moment. But in the end, the joke was on Nucky, as Van Alden came clean to Randolph and handed over a file on the bootlegger that rivals "War and Peace."
A few additional observations about 'Peg of Old:'

- Gillian's behavior around Jimmy is reaching new uncomfortable heights. The fact that people used to think they were brother and sister is actually a relief…
- Can't say I'm sad to see, or rather not see Lucy at Van Alden's when he returned home.
- As I mentioned earlier, Nucky had some great lines in this hour. Gotta love how he quoted the exact date he last saw Lucy the minute she walked in with a basket full of baby.
- Lucky and Gillian are at it again. I'm afraid this is only going to make things creepier between Jimmy and mom, when he finds out.

- Nucky gets shot again, don't really care.
- As little as I care about Nucky, I can't help hating Eli.
After a string of well paced and finely tuned episodes, I'm convinced "Boardwalk Empire" has hit its stride and I couldn't be happier I stuck with it. While I have given up caring about Nucky Thompson's character as much as I should, seeing as he's the main man here, the supporting characters more than live up to their title. And Nucky is best when he bounces off them. What are your thoughts on "Boardwalk Empire's" latest hour? Sound off in the comments!

Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Episode 19 'Peg of Old' Review
November 09, 2011

I have mentioned several times how much it impresses me that with so many characters on this show, that the writers ofBoardwalk Empire are able to cram so much character development into one episode, but this latest episode, 'Peg of Old,' takes the cake. Yes, there's still the graphic violence and even a very surprising sex scene for those simply looking for such things out of their TV watching enjoyment, but those who seek unbelievable storytelling came to the right place.
After a brief opening showing that boxer Jack Dempsey has indeed, at Nucky's suggestion a few episodes back, come to train in Atlantic City (which also puts him in Nucky's pocket, it seems), the story immediately shifts to Van Alden and the mess that his life has become. His wife will no longer converse with him by phone or by mail, and it seems the money he had promised Lucy for her trouble is now non-existent.

After a heated argument with Lucy, Van Alden heads into work only to find that his office has been overtook by the Assistant DA and her lackeys, moving Van Alden and his things to a tiny desk in the back of the room. The ADA is there working on the legal case against Nucky, making Nucky once again a thorn in Van Alden's side, even when he's not intending to be.

Margaret (finally!) makes the trek to Brooklyn to visit the family that she recently discovered are living in America. The show introduces several young ladies of varying ages, all of them her sisters, that only seem to know her as Margaret, but as her brother walks in he calls her Peg, thus proving Katie the maid's theory that Margaret was actually the "Peggy" that she had her call about earlier this season. What follows is an odd mix of sweet and awkward conversation between Margaret and her brother and sisters. For every moment of progress she makes with the girls, her brother takes her down a notch.

In the midst of a slightly heated discussion, Margaret reveals that she left behind her old life in Ireland because she had gotten pregnant, lied about the circumstances that lead to the pregnancy, and fled for fear of the persecution and life she had awaiting her if she were to stick around. It's some pretty emotional back and forth that brings out the best in Kelly Macdonald's portrayal of Margaret. There's a fire and defiance within that character that's been missing nearly all season, but even amidst her sadness over her brother's attitude towards her, you can sense that rebellious aspect of her coming back to the surface, and by episode's end it returns in a not-quite surprising fashion. I hope we have more of the strong, rebellious Margaret to look forward to.

After last week's shootout in the woods, Jimmy and the New York boys (Lucky and Lansky) had come to an agreement to start bringing in Heroin. This week they have all convened in Atlantic City, Al Capone in tow, to discuss their impending business venture, although it sounds like their still talking about booze to me. Eli shows up late to the meeting, only adding more fuel to the inferiority complex that character must have.

Jimmy continues to insist that Nucky is going to go down once the courts get a hold of him, but the other members of this younger group of gangsters insist that he should just be taken out. Jimmy seems to fend it off until Eli himself says to "just kill him, already." This puts Jimmy in an awkward place and gives actor Michael Pitt a chance to really show what a multi-layered character Jimmy really is. Although he's been on the Commodore's side since the end of Season 1, you can tell that it's Nucky that he truly admires and respects and the thought of not only harm coming to Nucky, but harm coming to him by his call, has him completely twisted up inside. Alas, he finds himself in a leadership position, makes a tough decision and informs Capone to call one of his guys to seal the deal.

Immediately after making this decision, it's evident that Jimmy is filled with regret. He discusses this with his mother, who insists that he can't look weak in front of the other fellows if he is to be their ringleader. What Jimmy is unaware of is that his mom has rekindled her affair with Lucky, leaving me to question if she has some ulterior motives herself.
There's not a whole lot of Nucky this week, but what we do get of him is great. Early on he is visited by Lucy, with baby in tow, who admits she initially was going to try and play him for some money, but then tells the truth about her situation with Van Alden, which Nucky feels he can use to his advantage. He calls Van Alden in and makes him an offer. If Van Alden will spy on the ADA, Nucky will take care of him, Lucy, and the baby. Before they can agree, Nucky mentions that he gave Lucy some money, and Van Alden takes off, knowing that it can't be a good thing.

Sure enough, Van Alden returns home to find a neighbor watching the baby and a dirty diaper on the spinning on the Victrola that Lucy had previously so desired. Van Alden has literally hit bottom. He's made a mess of his once devout life having a wife that won't speak to him, a baby with another woman, countless other sins, including murder, on his conscious and has now been propositioned by Nucky Thompson, the man he came to Atlantic City to take down in the first place. However, Van Alden's faith runs strong and as we see him, holding his newborn daughter that he has decided to name Abigail, there's a sense of rebirth in his eyes.

He immediately walks into his office and hands over an extensive file that he's built on Nucky Thompson over to the ADA and agrees to testify to all information contained within. Rather than being in Nucky's pocket, Van Alden has decided to go up against him once again, and I couldn't be more excited about it. After the explosion that took the life of one of his men, Van Alden has recognized how far he has strayed from his path and it appears that he is back on the road of the righteous, or at least as best as he can be.

Even Owen gets a little bit more back story this week, although it's not quite the clearest. After being a no-show to drive Nucky to a party at Babette's, it is revealed that he is staking out a long time acquaintance that, from what I could gather, used to serve with him in the Irish military but committed some form of treason, as Owen waits for the man to enter a bathroom and then, with a handy spoon trick and some wire, relieves the man of a couple of fingers, as well as his life. This gives a greater glimpse to the more vicious side of the Owen character and I'm curious to see how this aspect plays out.

There is that other side of Owen, though. The handsome heartbreaker side that Margaret herself confessed to thinking inappropriate thoughts about. As it turns out, she won't have to just imagine it any longer. As she arrives home from Brooklyn, properly informed by her brother that no one knows her or cares for her there, she finds an empty house, save for Owen the driver. The maids have taken the kids to the beach and Nucky is at Babette's, leaving the house completely to them. Owen begins with his instant flirtations, which Margaret shirks from initially, but then she makes it clear that Owen can come upstairs with her. Although she acts cold and uncaring about the two of them and what they are about to do, once they begin Margaret seems to enjoy herself much more than she expected, vastly more than she has ever with Nucky, and that leads me to believe this won't be the one time thing she insisted it would be. Little do Margaret and Owen know that while they are consummating their desires, that Nucky has been injured with no one by his side.
While at the party at Babette's and listening to Jack Dempsey give his speech, Nucky starts making eyes at a young lady but his glance is interrupted by an almost crazed looking Jimmy. He gives Nucky a sort of cryptic message and walks off, leaving Nucky more confused than ever. Just as Jimmy steps aside, the gunman he hired takes a shot at Nucky, who manages to get out of the way save for his hand that he held up to protect himself. The gunman is immediately shot by one of the government agents working with the ADA, revealing that the government has an even closer eye on Nucky now than was realized. It makes for a fairly grim scene with Nucky, lying on the floor shot through the hand, while his lady and bodyguard are giving in to their carnal sides with no idea what's become of him.

With only five episodes left this season, the story is definitely showing a picking up of the pace. Alliances and sides are being chosen, and everyone seems to be on the verge of making their next big play and I for one can't wait to see it all unfold.

- Matt Hardeman
• Margaret finally got some good story reminding me of why I loved her so much in Season 1
• Nucky offering Van Alden a drink is such a brazen move I can't help but applaud him for it
• The many layers of Van Alden and Jimmy and the amazing work that Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt are doing as those characters
• Even though it was fleeting, I love seeing Stephen Graham's turn as Al Capone any chance I can Jeers:
• No Chalky is always a bad thing. Give me more Chalky!
If you are tired after a long day of work and just want to watch a show with good performances and strong technical chops, etc. etc., Boardwalk Empire remains a totally valid choice. Even at its worst, it never makes the world an objectively poorer place. (Most hours of cable news can be described this way. We should all just stop watching those.) It’s a show! It can muddle through an hour with fighting and sex and guns and a well-hewn overall style, plus occasionally some snappy dialogue. So when we say an hour of Boardwalk Empire was “bad TV,” then, that’s not to suggest that the stakes of its relative goodness or badness were ever particularly high. But good Lord this episode was all over the place. And the more you think about it, the less impressive it becomes.

Remember the other week, in the woods, when Jimmy/Harrow/Manny and Meyer/Luciano, etc. had their midnight meeting of the guns? And they all decided to let Nucky have his booze so that they could start running heroin? The general idea being that they’d expand the field of play rather than go directly at their rival on his turf. Well, nobody who was there remembers it — because in what’s easily the most out-of-nowhere narrative device of the season, most of the aforementioned parties (with Capone subbing in for Manny) decide it’s time to off Nucky, after a helpful nudge in that direction from Sheriff Eli. As Capone helpfully explains, they’ll make more bread that way. Which is what it’s “all about,” this gangsterism. The moo-lah. Cash rules everything et al. Then Mickey (yeah, he’s back) does that laugh of his. Inexplicably, no one shoots him in his seat.
So there are a bunch of narrative strands that are hinted at in this scene, none of which are much developed. As in, no one is curious about why Eli’s so eager to kill his brother? That’s a speed bump that everyone just hops right over. It’s not like Eli’s ever been the go-to strategy guy or anything. Maybe it’s possible he’s being driven by some emotions that are irrelevant to everyone else? At any rate, Jimmy is maneuvered into deciding to do something only because other people are waiting for him to do it — a particular move that, because of how transparently Jimmy is given to making it, doesn’t connote strength nearly so much as he’d like it to. It’s painful to watch him in the decision-making chair. And disappointing, too, after we’d begun to see him get under Nucky’s skin by being minimally creative. He just forgot all that stuff from last week about being a subtle player of the game. So, we’re back to where we’ve been before, with a boring, confused, easily manipulated Jimmy. As a trope, it didn’t get more interesting while we were away, during the past few, very good episodes.

And listen: If Al Capone is gonna trouble himself to travel across the country, sit in the makeup chair, and get hauled out for a scene on this program, the least Jimmy could do is agree to kill somebody. And so, largely on this argumentation is the hit on Nucky born. For this vital and important task, the brain trust in the room elects to go with an anonymous “paisan” off a train to be named later. It’s really neither here nor there. Almost anyone will do, because all the characters in this scene would like to get out of it as soon as possible. (I like to imagine the Commodore, over in the next room, using that one good arm of his to throw some feces on the wall in protest, while listening to this scene play out.)

Would you believe that Nucky is not successfully murdered by the person tapped for this task? No, it looks the treasurer’s hand needs a bandage — but that’s about it. This happens near the end of the episode, but it’s worth dispensing with now, it’s such a predictable dead end. Jimmy tries to be tough right before the putative kill, approaching Nucky in Babette’s supper club. He says this line, full of feeling, about being decisive, and then turns away as the moron assassin gets off one shot (the one Nucky catches in his defensively raised hand), before being in turn plugged by one of the new federal investigators in town. After Nucky takes some pain medication, he may begin to wonder what that fed on his tail is all about. We see Jimmy limping out of the hall, wincing like “argh, why am I even doing any of this when my only true wish is to curl up in the fetal position and have my mom lick my face a bunch?”

Also, haphazardly spread in and among the scenes that make up this episode’s main arc, we had a bunch of other well-acted story strands that didn’t really get us anywhere. Margaret’s brother in Brooklyn? Still not very kindly disposed toward her, turns out. Perhaps you thought there was a little glimmer of something there when he was telling Maid Katy that the old Margaret was dead to him. If so, maybe you would have taken a car up to the borough, too, and spent the night even after getting the cold shoulder at a family dinner. But would you have come back the next day, for more of it? This whole thing takes for-ev-er. Are we ever going to see any of Margaret’s extended family members again? We can hope not, while also hoping that young girl gets all the books about horses she can bear to read. (Aw, reading!)

Let’s contrast Margaret’s family drama with that of Chalky White, who is nowhere to be found in this episode. (And was just window-dressing in the prior one.) I think a few recap readers found Chalky’s last big arc pretty hard to swallow — the whole bit where he got chased out of his own home at dinnertime after being spooked by the class difference between his childhood origins and his current status as a high roller who can afford the finer things. It was a stretch, sure — but also an interesting one. And it also pushed us into a more complex understanding of the character’s role in the community. Could Chalky be patient on Nucky’s timetable while the Klan’s murders went unanswered? And if he could stand to wait, what good was he as a minority power broker? And if he was no good at that, why even pretend to be able to read, or be interested in eating anything other than Hoppin’ John. Hey, I wonder what happened to that guy! Seemed like he was on the verge of doing some stuff we hadn’t seen on the show already.

Margaret’s trip to Brooklyn has got none of that going for it. The whole output of her journey, after suffering another round of family heartbreak, is that she’s ready to be a badass again — which manifests back in Atlantic City as a secret fuck with Owen. But like Jimmy, we’re just going 'round in circles with Margaret. She was already a badass well before Owen’s arrival. Then she got timid again, asking questions that we thought she’d dealt with in season one, when she was reading Henry James and being all upstanding.

Oh, and about Owen. You might not have known this, but there was a brief crossover sequence in this episode with the HBO Ireland program The Troubles. The first season of that show follows Owen as he goes on a frustrating five-month chase for some fellow Irishman, before he comes to theBoardwalk, where he then finds and kills him in this episode of this show. Anyway — go and watch that entire series and then come back and watch this part again. It’ll really pay off for you in a way that it never would have, had you just seen it in this episode, stripped of all context.

Okay, but seriously. What was good in this episode? Agent Van Alden was good. Esther, the sass-talking new U.S. Attorney who can’t be bought by Nucky, has inspired Van Alden to return to something resembling law enforcement, which is also a smart call. He hands her all his non-booze-related paperwork on Nucky and then holds his baby after Lucy splits (perhaps bound for the stage in Manhattan, if the piece of paper pinned to the diaper in the phonograph is any indication). Some scores were at least settled here: Lucy got her money, though from Nucky instead of Van Alden. Strangely, this may have freed Van Alden up in a way no one anticipated. But as Gillian tells Jimmy when he’s brooding over the Nucky hit, mere bookkeeping is beneath the aura of a great mover and shaker. Here’s hoping the show picks up again next week with more inspiration, instead of dutifully diversifying its attentions among an ever-thickening portfolio of narrative accounts.

'Boardwalk Empire' recap: 'Put a bullet in his head and get it over with'
Published: Sunday, November 06, 2011, 11:16 PM Updated: Monday, November 07, 2011, 12:48 AM

By Anthony Venuto


Directed by Allen Coulter and written by Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki and Bathsheba Doran, "Peg of Old" delved in the concept of family, isolation and secrecy.SEASON TWO, EPISODE SEVEN

THIS WEEK: Directed by Allen Coulter and written by Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki and Bathsheba Doran, "Peg of Old" delved in the concept of family, isolation and secrecy.
Some key moments:

• Nucky enlists heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey to promote the wireless broadcast of his upcoming Jersey City bout.
• Receiving pressure from his mini-syndicate, Jimmy Darmody faces a decision that could shape the future of Atlantic City. But is it the right one?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nucky & Chalky White

"The de facto Mayor of Atlantic City's African-American community, ex-boxer Chalky White runs a major bootlegging operation for Nucky, a business tha that pubs strains on their already-complicated personal relationship."

Nelson Johnson, author of the book Boardwalk Empire, on which the HBO production is based, also wrote a book about the history of Atlantic City's black community.

A Visit to the Boardwalk Set in Brooklyn

By Jane Mulkerrins
BST 07 Oct 2011

A disused car lot in a less-than-salubrious part of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is not the first place you’d expect to find the largest set ever built in New York film and TV history. The 300 ft-long period-perfect replica of the Atlantic City boardwalk cost over £2m. Happily, HBO is getting good use out of it; the second season of the visually sumptuous drama Boardwalk Empire, shown here on Sky Atlantic, begins tomorrow.

The Prohibition-era epic weaves a web of bootleggers, gangsters and showgirls in the New Jersey city which was for many “the world’s playground”, and, for others, “Sodom-by-the-Sea”. The alcohol ban in 1920s America was flouted with abandon here: it became a haven for hedonists and hustlers, as those who controlled the contraband booze amassed illicit fortunes.

Boardwalk Empire was no small investment for HBO: the pilot episode cost £18 m and was directed by Martin Scorsese. But more than seven million Americans tuned in, making it the cable station’s second most-watched show after the saucy vampire saga, True Blood.

Although some dissenters have branded the show “Bored Walk Empire”, attacking its leisurely pace and lack of action (a criticism which appears to have been addressed in the brisk and darkly comic season two opener), the critics have, by and large, been approving, and the trophy haul healthy. Last month, the show won eight Emmys. Its star, Steve Buscemi, also won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the city’s charismatic but crooked treasurer, Nucky Thompson.

Buscemi, 53, defends his alter ego. “He’s a career politician, he enjoys his position, and he likes to spread the wealth,” he says. “He’s corrupt, yes, but he wouldn’t consider himself a gangster… he just deals with gangsters.”

Season one ended on Election Day, November 1920, and the action resumes four months later, with Nucky’s grip on power waning. “He is in even more trouble and danger than he was in the first season,” Buscemi says. Those closest to him, including his brother Eli (Shea Wigham), the town’s sheriff, and his ex-protégé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), are conspiring against him.

But at least one area of Nucky’s life is flourishing – his relationship with Margaret Schroeder, played by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, State of Play). Margaret underwent a dramatic metamorphosis in season one: from downtrodden immigrant widow and member of the women’s temperance league, to Nucky’s lover, luxuriating in the trappings of his wealth and success.

“She really annoyed me at the beginning,” confesses Macdonald, 35. “I remember watching the pilot and thinking, ‘God, she's so weedy.’ [But] this season she even gets Nucky out of a few tight spots, so she can be strong. [Although] she still battles with her Catholic guilt over her choices.”

This season will introduce fresh faces, including George Remus (Glenn Fleshler), a lawyer and bootlegger. Like many characters in Boardwalk Empire, for example the young Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Remus is a real-life historical figure: he made millions scamming the sale of medicinal alcohol to pharmacies and was reputedly the inspiration for the title character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

The show’s painstaking historical accuracy is a large part of its appeal: all actors, even the extras, receive a 1920s haircut; 80-year-old Martin Greenfield, a celebrated Brooklyn tailor, cuts the characters’ suits in a strictly traditional style (no pins, just chalk); Nucky’s car is the original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow that the real Nucky Thompson drove.

Creator Terry Winter (who wrote much of The Sopranos) is already working on season three, set in 1922, and is keen to follow the tumultuous Twenties right to their conclusion: the Wall Street Crash. Most of the cast say they’re happy to stay as long as their storylines allow. Macdonald, however, does have concerns for Margaret. “She started off as this goody two-shoes, in the temperance league. I do keep thinking if the series runs and runs, she’s probably going to end up a hopeless alcoholic.”

‘Boardwalk Empire’ returns on Saturday 8 October on Sky Atlantic/SAHD at 9.00pm

Steve Buscemi - Creepy, Convincing, Master Misfit

Steve Buscemi: The master misfit

As Boardwalk Empire returns for its second season, it's time to salute Steve Buscemi, a superb actor finally triumphing in a deserved lead role.

By Martin Chilton, Digital Culture Editor
07 Oct 2011

Little about Steve Buscemi suggests Hollywood megastar. Yet his shaggy hair, pallid complexion, those large eerie eyes and slighly crooked teeth have combined to make him one of the most recognised faces in cinema. The quirky looks, and an unprepossessing character, mask an absolutely brilliant performer.

He brings such complexity to the bad guys he plays - often neurotic oddballs - that his name must be on speed dial if casting agents want the perfect creepy, convincing misfit.

In HBO's Boardwalk Empire he got his chance top be the main man and the awards have flowed for his portrayal of Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson. The second series is back on Sky Atlantic tomorrow.

Buscemi is a fascinating character off screen, too. Born in Brooklyn in 1957, he came from an ordinary, non-acting family of Irish-Sicillian descent (his mother was a hostess and his father a sanitation worker) and he survived his own share of scrapes. As a youngster, he fractured his skull when he was hit by a bus and was also hit by a car while chasing a ball. The dramatic incidents continued in adulthood. In 2001 he was stabbed three times when he was caught in a bar brawl involving his friend Vince Vaughn.

The omens weren't great from the start, as he joked: “I’ve always kind of enjoyed being born on Friday 13th."

Buscemi, now 53, did some minor acting in high school before, at the age of 20, working as a stand-up comedian (he was a fan of the brilliant American George Carlin) but it failed to take off and he missed the cameraderie of acting. Perhaps one of the reasons he excels at portraying idiosyncratic characters is that his own past is so varied. "I drove an ice-cream truck. I was a furniture remover. I was a dishwasher. I was a bus boy," he recalled.

And from 1980 to 1984, he was a fire fighter in Engine Company Number 55 in the Little Italy district of New York. He was wary of telling his fellow-firemen about his acting ambitions. As he recalled: "I thought they would think it was less than a manly thing to do." Once they knew, they backed him to the hilt, "forcing me to perform at parties".

Later, as a renowned actor, Buscemi was hit hard by the 9/11 tragedy and rushed to help his old unit, working long shifts sifting through the World Trade Center rubble in September 2001. In an interview with John Lahr in The New Yorker, Buscemi's wife, the artist Jo Andres, said: "He'd come home covered in ash. The smell was so intense on him he'd take everything off at the door and try to go right in the shower." Buscemi said: "It was like being on another planet. You had no reference for it."

He felt it was an honour. It was the fire fighters who had helped persuade him to pursue his dreams of acting and backed him in learning his trade in the theatre. One of his big cinema breaks came in working for the Coen Brothers, with whom he has made six movies. The Coens first used him as Mink in Miller's Crossing. He was also Donny in The Big Lebowskiand, perhaps his finest role for them, Carl Showalter in the magnificentFargo. "In Fargo, they not only killed me, but they beat me up and shot me in the face and had an axe in the shoulder. I die a lot," he said.

Buscemi can play outright creepy - Mr Pink in Quentin Taratino'sReservoir Dogs - or comedy creepy as he showed in Con Air, when he played the mass murderer Garland Greene. In one scene his character sings He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. Buscemi said: "People like the song. People sometimes sing that to me." It was a mark of his growing reputation that the part was specifically written for him and he did not have to audition.

He's also got a fine sense of humour. He's appeared as himself in The Simpsons and when his dentist suggested fixing his teeth, he told her: "You're going to kill my livelihood if you do that." Outside of acting, his interests are broad. He's written a song for Lou Reed and composed his own poems.

But is for acting he so deservedly shines. And on big or small screen, he is unique. You could see some of his early talent on an episode of David Simon's Homicide, where he played a gunman, and he was superb as Tony Blundetto - the cousin and childhood friend of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. In fact, he directed one of the finest episodes - Pine Barrens. He said: "I feel really privileged to have been a part of it and to have worked that closely with it, as a director and as an actor. And as an audience member, I'm still in awe of the show. For me, it never lost that sense of, 'Holy shit... this is f----- great."

But, at long last, Buscemi got what he deserved: the starring role. And he's been brllliant as the artful, cynical yet vulnerable manipulator InBoardwalk Empire.

So far, he has won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for his role in Boardwalk. He said: "This is one of the best parts I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s just so exciting for me to go to work and know that these scripts are so strong, and to play a character who is ambitious. He certainly has a dark side, but there’s also a lot of humor that goes along with it. I think he genuinely has a good heart."

There is one part that got away from him. And it might have been the most intriguing role of all. He auditioned for the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Now just how creepy would a Steve Buscemi Costanza have been?


10/10/2011 08:54 AM
His first major role, and the one that made his fellow actors, directors and critics take note, was playing the character of Nick in the late Bill Sherwood's drama, "Parting Glances" filmed in 1984 but not released until 1986.

The role was that of a young man dying of Aids and it was an mesmerising performance. It was a courageous role for an unknown actor to take but it proved he had tremendous talent.

This was, I believe, summed up by the New York Time's film critic, Janet Maslin, when she wrote in her review "It is to both his and the film's credit that the
anguish of AIDS is presented as part of a larger social fabric, understood in
context, and never in a maudlin light."

10/07/2011 09:49 PM
Steve Buscemi has never done anything but supreme work. While I am sure he is proud of his Sicilian heritage, he's probably equally proud of his Mother's heritage which is Irish.

If you're not watching 'Boardwalk Empire' already, this should convince you to begin –

HBO Chronology

By Chris Harvey
GMT 06 Jan 2011

The Home Box Office channel is launched with a showing of the Paul Newman film Sometimes a Great Notion, followed by a National Hockey League game from Madison Square Garden. This mix of movies and sporting events would provide the basic formula for HBO through the ensuing decade.

HBO is acquired by Time Life and becomes the fastest growing pay TV service in the US.

The channel shows the “Thrilla in Manila” world heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which is delivered by satellite.

A stand-up show, On Location, with performers that include Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, is introduced.

The channel expands to a seven-day, 24-hour programming schedule.

HBO broadcasts its first original made-for-TV movie The Terry Fox Story, a biopic about the Canadian amputee and runner, as well as the first children’s show on the channel, Fraggle Rock, created by Jim Henson of The Muppets fame.

The Larry Sanders Show, a sitcom about a neurotic talk-show host becomes one of the channel’s first critical hits.

The channel premieres its first original drama series, the violent and con

The comedy drama Sex and the City, with its frank portrait of the sex lives of four New York women, premieres on the channel. It will go on to become a major international success.

The Sopranos premieres. The series about a New Jersey crime boss who is seeing a psychiatrist for his panic attacks will go on to be a regular contender for best-ever TV drama.

The channel broadcasts the first series of cult comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, created by Seinfeld’s Larry David, which will return for an eighth season in 2011.

The Second World War drama Band of Brothers becomes the most expensive television miniseries ever made by a television network. HBO also airs the first season of Six Feet Under, the comedy drama about a family of undertakers created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Alan Ball.

Baltimore crime-drama The Wire, created by former reporter David Simon, cements the channel’s reputation as a home for high-quality drama.

The second series of Da Ali G Show introduces Ali G, Borat and Bruno to US audiences.

Alan Ball’s new drama True Blood, based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, reinforces HBO’s reputation for a no-holds barred treatment of sex and violence.

Boardwalk Empire, a Prohibition-era gangster saga set in Atlantic City and starring Steve Buscemi, is a critical and ratings success, leading to comparisons with The Sopranos. The channel signs a five year broadcasting agreement with BSkyB, that will see all new HBO programming airing in the UK on the Sky Atlantic channel.

Brit Review of Nelson Johnson's Boardwalk Empire Book

Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson: review
Nelson Johnson's tale of Atlantic City, called Boardwalk Empire, inspired a television series.

By Tom Greene GMT 04 Nov 2011

Nelson Johnson’s book Boardwalk Empire charts the rise, fall and rise again of one of America’s most iconic sites: Atlantic City. The book begins in 1797 and ends in the twenty-first century, with the bulk of it focused on the three main ‘bosses’ of Atlantic City: Louis ‘the Commodore’ Kuehnle, Nucky Johnson (on whome Steve Buscemi's Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson is based) and Frank ‘Hap’ Farley.

It is easy to see why Johnson’s book has become a highly successful TV show, and not just because this paperback edition comes with characters of the HBO adaptation on the front cover. The book is full of compelling anecdotes and characters. From Thomas Edison designing some of the first lighting and landscaping in Atlantic City in 1902 to Louis Kessell, Nucky Johnson’s five-foot-five ‘trunk of a tree’ butler who started the day massaging his boss before ending it by putting him to bed he was too drunk to do it himself. The book ends with Donald Trump and the ‘eighth wonder of the world’: the Taj Mahal.

The book explores interesting connections between the criminal, commercial and political worlds of Atlantic City. Al Capone had a deft justification for his profession as he highlighted society's double-standards by saying: “Everybody calls me a racketeer I call myself a businessman. When I sell liquor, it’s bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality.”

Power struggle is a consistent theme throughout the tale - both personal and political - and with each change in law or personal, Atlantic City had to react. Johnson explores interesting social and economic changes in Atlantic City and the first 50 pages feel more like a social history than the character-driven memoirs that follow. It was a place where the newly-enriched working classes took vacations because ‘there were no class distinctions on the Boardwalk: everyone was someone special’.

There are fascinating revelations about the treatment of black workers, who were barred from white doctors’ offices with the consequence that, by 1900, blacks were conducting tuberculosis at four times the rate of whites.

No footnotes are given for sources or quotations forcing interested readers to turn to the back of the book if they wish to find the quotation’s reference. The book is also reliant on the memories of key players years after the event and the reliability of this testimony is worth considering. There must have been an obvious danger of becoming over-nostalgic for those trying to remembering Atlantic City in the 1920s. That said, the pace of the book works well and the characters keep you interested.

Nucky Johnson’s description of Atlantic City is equally applicable to Nelson Johnson’s book: "We have whiskey, wine, women, song, and slot machines. I won’t deny it and I won’t apologise for it."

Nelson Johnson: Boardwalk Empire (Ebury Press £8.99)
Boardwalk Empire Series 2 is showing on Sky Atlantic.