TV binge-watch: Boardwalk Empire

***No plot spoilers***

Binge-watching is a relatively new concept, chez beetleypete. In the past, I have been known to return from holiday and catch up on a series recorded on VHS tape, by watching them all in one day. But that wasn’t called ‘binge-watching’ then. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is an HBO series, first shown in 2009, with the last episode in 2014. Some years later, it was bought by SKY TV, and shown on their satellite network in the UK. But I have never had that, so couldn’t watch it.

However, when I set up my NOW TV streaming box, I was excited to find that the whole thing, five seasons numbering 56 episodes, was available for me to watch. I started slowly, with the $18 million pilot episode, directed by the estimable Martin Scorsese. I liked it a lot, and had soon seen season one, after a couple of weeks. Then I noticed a warning come up on screen. I had limited time to watch the rest, before NOW TV, in their wisdom, took it from the schedule to replace it with something else. There was nothing for it, but to embrace the concept of binge-watching, and cram in as many episodes a day as I could manage.

Two weeks later, and I have seen it all, watching the final episode of series five on the last day it was still available. Now I am someone who doesn’t mind waiting for ‘next week’s episode’. I always avoid the annoying trailers showing what will happen next week too. But this series was perfect for this new way of watching, as it enabled me to completely understand the complex flashbacks, and to get to know the huge cast of characters quickly and easily.

So, what’s it about? It is about gangsters. Real people like Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Seigel, Johnny Torrio, Lucky Luciano, and Nucky Thompson,the boss of Atlantic City, New Jersey They are already involved in all kinds of crime and corruption; from prostitutes, to the numbers gambling rackets, and extorting protection money. Then the Volstead Act is passed, Prohibition arrives, and the gangsters start to cash in on the illegal booze business. If you have ever seen a gangster film set in the 1920s or 1930s, you will know what to expect.

But there’s more. Some of the action goes back as far as the 1890s, when Atlantic City was a new idea, a small seaside town on the east coast. It follows the corrupt elections of town officials and even presidents; wheeling and dealing with influential senators, and the way that gambling and illegal booze turned two-bit gangsters into millionaires overnight. It deals with the greed that leads to the formation of the Mafia, and the ruthless way that they dealt with any rivals. Then it goes much deeper, looking at the lives of prohibition agents, the early days of Hoover and the FBI, and even examines the backgrounds and family life of the most notorious gangsters of their time. It has vast scope, and 56 episodes will allow that kind of exploration.

Did I like it? Of course I did. It was great. But that comes with warnings, lots of them. It has nudity, in abundance. Sex scenes, (quite graphic at times) in abundance, and violent deaths of all kinds. (Yes, they are in abundance too) Side stories deal with distressing things like sex with minors, (discussed, not shown, but still upsetting) the unfeeling medical treatment dished out to psychiatric patients at the time, and overt racism from both white gangsters, and the Ku Klux Klan. (Including any name-calling you can think of) There is domestic violence, drunkenness, drug-taking, and a great many scenes set in bordellos. Incest too, even that. Just one incestuous adult encounter, but it is shown in some detail. And swearing, lots of it, all the time. Every bad word you can think of, uncut.
It extends the locations to include deals down in Cuba to buy rum, (with a nod to the revolution that followed later) and covers the lead-up to the election of FDR, during the Great Depression. As I said, scope.

Stereotypes abound too. Irish drunks and wife beaters. Black people who cannot read and write, Italians who are all gangsters, and stiff federal agents who might all be amenable to the right bribe, or a night with a girl supplied by Nucky. The Jewish people in the drama are gangsters too, and racial slurs are thrown at them thick and fast. Characters of Scandinavian origin talk like the Swedish Chef on The Muppets, and there were times when subtitles might have been useful to understand everything mumbled by some of the black characters. But never forget, it is reflecting a time period, and a real one, not a fictional one. Most of the events shown really happened, and the treatment of minorities by rich white people is a matter of historical record.

In case you might already be thinking ‘this isn’t for me’, let me mention the cast. Because in something like this casting is all, and as well as the old clothes, cars, convincing sets, great period feel, and use of contemporary music, the cast is just perfect. Star of the show is Steve Bushcemi, born to play Nucky Thompson. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald shines as Margaret, the Irish widow who becomes Nucky’s second wife. Michael Shannon is on wonderful form as the religious Prohibition Agent, Nelson Van Alden, and British actor Stephen Graham delivers a convincing Al Capone, always on the edge of madness. It just goes on, (and on) with Gretchen Moll, Dabney Coleman, Patricia Arquette, (looking deliciously voluptuous) Bobby Cannevale, Jeffrey Wright, and so many more.

OK, that’s a long review, I admit that. But it was a long series!
Here’s a trailer.

30 thoughts on “TV binge-watch: Boardwalk Empire

  1. Great post ๐Ÿ™‚ I love Boardwalk Empire, but I may say that the Pilot Episode may be the greatest of all the episodes simply because we have Scorsese at the helm in terms of direction. Anyway, keep up the great work as always ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John. The pilot was impressive, but the quality was well-maintained by the many other directors. Though some chose ‘darkness’ as their style, rendering many scenes hard to watch on an LED TV.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a subsidiary company of SKY, operating as a streaming service only, using cheap-to-buy devices, and reasonable monthly fees. Its main selling point is the ‘catch up’ facility of previously shown programmes on the main channels here, so I think it has little export value. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I doubt I’ll ever get around to the series. There is no TV broadcast or cable here, and I’ve only watched one film so far this year on DVD (though I have a huge collection). I’m focusing on writing lyrics and fiction. But “Boardwalk Empire” does sound good. It’s probably available on DVD/Blu-Ray, but I’m sure it would cost a bundle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Worth finding, Abbi. But make sure you catch it right from the start, as the events assume some knowledge of what happened before, and the flashbacks will be too confusing as well. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


  3. Having just got Sky box sets I started watching this after everyone said I should ages ago. But..5 Series! I am on Series 2 episode 4.

    Itโ€™s brilliantly addictive!!

    Most Iโ€™ve done is 3 in a row.

    I have also acquired Netflix..they have me hooked on about 5 series of things so far..they are clever. No way am I going to cancel my subscription after my free month!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a free trial of Netflix last year. I watched a couple of good films, but failed to get excited about much else, so didn’t subscribe. On my pensions, I have to be careful how much I spend, so NOW TV works well for me at ยฃ7.99 a month, as it also has all the catch-up options for the main TV channels.
      Glad to hear you are enjoying B. E, John. It doesn’t flag, I assure you. Kept me hooked right until the last minute of the last episode. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nowt might be like Stan here. Which we have with Netflix. I agree you’re probably only need one. There’s not enough hours in the day to watch everything. I’m glad you enjoyed Boardwalk Empire. I found the whole run satisfying but admit I have fondness for season 1 and 2. In real life Bucky never killed and lived to old age. He was convicted and went to jail I think but spent later years as a retired gangster in relative peace. I enjoyed Kelly McDonald’s initial story and had a real soft spot for Just one sniper.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This came on Sky about the same time we had just finished watching the Soprano’s and we watched the first episode but couldn’t get into it. I think we were still mourning Tony Soprano ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ If I get a chance I’ll give it another shot, it does look up my street!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is very similar to The Sopranos, just set many decades earlier. I loved The Sopranos, (perhaps my favourite TV serial ever) and Boardwalk Empire is not anywhere near as classy. But it’s very good. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. It is full of sex and violence, so I thought the warnings were appropriate. Steve is great in the lead role though, and manages to totally inhabit the character of Nucky whilst still being very ‘Buschemi’. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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