Tuned In

The Morning After: Rise or Fall of Boardwalk Empire?

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OK, technically this counts as two mornings after, but I realized that I should let you all know that I’m not doing weekly reviews of Boardwalk Empire this season. The main reason: I’m doing Homeland when it returns two Sundays from now, and for quality control and sanity I limit myself to one weekly Sunday writeup.

That’s the main reason, but the other, maybe ultimately more important reason is that I’m just not sure that Boardwalk Empire is not going to give me enough worth writing about on a weekly basis.

Part of my concern—and I bet that of many Boardwalk Empire fans—was where the show goes after killing off Jimmy Darmody at the end of season 2. Now, let me give the show credit: I thought the end of season 2 was its strongest run to date, and the decision to kill off Jimmy made sense given the irreconcilable breach that built up between him and Nucky. The TV thing to do would have been to find some reason that Nucky needed to let Jimmy live, and spin out the antagonism between the two, the wounded father-son relationship, for years. I admire Terrence Winter for instead doing what the story he was telling dramatically demanded.

Still, the fact remains that Michael Pitt commanded the screen whenever he was on; there was a tortured complexity to Jimmy that was simply more compelling than Nucky’s cool, cerebral desire to get business done. With Jimmy, the show was a clash between generations, between worldviews. Without him, it’s in danger of just becoming a show about how a gangster fights his enemies and stays in business.

A show like that can be appealing enough. Disclosure: I’ve only watched two of the six episodes of season 3 that HBO sent out, because I want to watch them a little closer to the run in which the rest of the audience sees them. And I’ve enjoyed those episodes—well enough. There are well-staged scenes. There are interesting nods to the history and social movements of the time (as well as the lingering tension between Margaret’s ideals and her reality).

But the episodes simply don’t stay with me once I’ve watched them. I admire them, then they’re over. I still love Jack Huston, but Harrow, and several other characters, feel a little unmoored without Jimmy in the picture. I have nothing against Bobby Cannavale’s performance, but Gyp Rossetti’s hothead-gangster persona is an awful lot like an older version of Lucky Luciano’s. And Chicago feels very, very far away.

I say all this knowing that both of Boardwalk’s previous seasons built slowly to strong season endings, so I see no reason to write it off now. (I didn’t put the show on my 10-Best-of-2011 list, partly because I hadn’t seen the last couple episodes when we had to go to press; if I had, it might have sneaked in toward the bottom.) But it’s probably better if I wait to see how and if it builds through the season. In the meantime, feel free to fire off some shots at close range in the comments.