Whilst still in its relative infancy (with Season 2 released on DVD and Blu-ray this week), HBO’s Prohibition era crime saga Boardwalk Empire has already established itself as one of the finest TV dramas currently in production. The brainchild of The Sopranos writer Terence Winter, each and every episode is soaked through with mystery, intrigue, betrayal and bootlegged liquor. Whilst perhaps not as coherent as its forerunner, Season 2 continues this legacy with aplomb. Having split from his former mentor Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi) at the end of Season One, James ‘Jimmy’ Darmody (Michael Pitt) has now aligned himself with his ageing father, the Commodore (Dabney Coleman).
Viewed by some as a worthy successor to Nucky, the two men engage in a bitter cold war of bootlegging, arms dealing and murder. Meanwhile, community figure Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) leads a black uprising following a brutal KKK attack. The above synopsis only covers a tiny fraction of what’s in-store for a viewer during Boardwalk’s victorious second season. With well-known stars including Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham and Kelly Macdonald bulking out an already terrific ensemble cast, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more cinematic TV drama at this point in time. Buscemi and Pitt dominate proceedings as the central duo locked in a precarious dance of death, yet even the most minor subplot is given the time – and effort – they each deserve.
The fledgling Civil Rights Movement plays a far more prominent role here than in Boardwalk’s inaugural outing (where White’s ‘black vote’ secured Thompson victory in his re-election campaign), with much of the ongoing narrative intrinsically linked to the racist massacre of several of White’s bootlegging associates. Ireland’s struggle for independence from the fading British Empire is given similar precedence, with street-tough Owen Slater (Charlie Cox) brought in as Nucky’s new right-hand man. Customary twists and turns are in abundance, and with a typically barnstorming season finale, the third series of Winter’s Boardwalk Empire can’t come soon enough. For those who, as far back as they can remember, dreamt of being a gangster, this is the show for you.