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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.

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BEfan
BEfan

This is discouraging news, Mr. Poniewozik! I enjoyed your reviews just as much as watching the show. Most of the other Boardwalk Empire reviewers out there simply rehash the plot without providing any analysis. Your reviews provided a lot of insights, always managing to point out a few things that I missed each episode. Your reviews will be sorely missed.

Lagerman Louise
Lagerman Louise

Jimmy was the heart and soul of the show.It is just not worth watching now because I will always compare it to the first two seasons when Michael Pitt was on and sadly it will just not measure up.Michael Pitt as Jimmy was that brillant.bad bad move killing off Jimmy.

I agree with Rita Jimmy lit up the screen in a way very few actors can achevesigh..... what this season could have been like with Jimmy still on ..........

Lagerman Louise
Lagerman Louise

Jimmy was the heart and soul of the show.

It is just not worth watching now because I will always compare it to the first two seasons when Michael Pitt was on and sadly it will just not measure up.

Michael Pitt as Jimmy was that brillant.

bad bad move killing off Jimmy

sigh..... what this season could have been like with Jimmy still on ..........

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Gary Coleman
Gary Coleman

Mr. Poniewoczik's comments are ridiculous. Not enough time to write about one of the best shows on television?  Tell ya what, Jim, go ahead and resign your post on this job and let me do it. I can give way more insight and commentary than your lazy butt can.

While Pitt's absence from the show is unfortunate, it would be so ridiculously false to have let him go on just so all those childish people who loved the 'pretty boy' could continue to see him on Sunday night. The show is so well written that any other alternative would have been forced and not at all in line with the writer's integrity. Let's face facts: Jimmy was a tortured soul. He was the product of a pedophile/child prostitute union; He had a surrogate father who also is a murdering underworld boss; he joined the army and witnessed horrors that nobody should have to see; then top it off with the fact that his mother is a lunatic who actually seduced him. There's just not a lot for this guy to look forward to. In season 2, the writers were showing us the slow, self destruction of Jimmy that could only have ended in his demise at the hands of Enoch Thompson.There simply are too many good characters and excellent writers in this show to worry about how we won't see Michael Pitt anymore. Besides, we got our revenge when Harrow showed us the proper way to use a shotgun on Munya Horvitz. It remains to be seen if Richard will continue the revenge angle and go after Gillian. Of course, there's always Chalky White's scenes to look forward to as well. (I could watch the jailhouse scenes with him and Purnsley Dunn a thousand times)See, plenty of reasons to continue watching BE!

ipfletch
ipfletch

Oddly enough, I'm more worried about "Homeland" stretching its premise- or at least its current story -too far. I've got this nagging vibe that tells me the storyline really should've been resolved at the end of the season, but instead they've effectively hit the reset button. I think I'll end up doing with it what I did last year: DVR the entire season and watch it in chunks.

As for "Boardwalk Empire", yeah- it does feel like something's missing already. Not just Jimmy, but also his wife. I like Cannavale as well, but- as somebody mentioned on another site - do we really need another version of Tommy from "GoodFellas"? You knew what was going to happen to that poor soul good samaritan the second he showed up- not a good thing. Also- without getting specific, what appears to be happening (or about to happen) with Van Alden is so irony-heavy it's distracting.

All that said, I'm optimistic that the entire season won't be as predictable as the opener was- I mean hey, they haven't even GOTTEN to Eli amp; Chalky yet and those two are the biggest monkey wrenches they have. Bottom line, this show remains the must-watch for me.

ImtheSpacePope
ImtheSpacePope

Well, guess I'll look for my WEEKLY BE reviews elsewhere. 

Alex2000
Alex2000

One name should give everyone hope: Chris Haddock.

He joined the show for season 3 as a co-executive producer and writer. He wrote episode 3 of this new season.  He isn't well known in the U.S., but is a big name in Canada. The creative force behind "Da Vinci's Inquest" and "Intelligence". The two most critically acclaimed Canadian shows of the 2000's. 

Again, maybe that doesn't count for much down there, but he is a huge talent, trust me. HBO and Boardwalk Empire are lucky to have him.

P.S. Watch Intelligence. Two brilliant seasons.

jterp1985
jterp1985

both homeland and boardwalk empire are really good shows - i've had similar anticipation for both in that i had no idea how they were going to continue after last season.  i've been reading your breaking bad recaps, which i really enjoy in tandem with the show - i look forward to reading your homeland recaps.

Rita
Rita

Lets face the facts,it might have made story sense to kill off Michael Pitt, artistically it was moronic! Yes Pitt lite up the screen watching him was fasinating, great actor handsome beyond!!  How egotistical to throw away all of it for "story line". I say baloney, the viewers were thrown under the bus and we may  never now why. Winters Hubris is being played out lol

Gary Coleman
Gary Coleman

The real hubris would have been to let Pitt stay on in any role other than a fugitive who fled from AC. 

AOO333
AOO333

Dude, little more critical analysis in your article, a little less about how/when/ you procrastinated doing your job. "The episodes simply don't stay with me once I've watched them," isn't all that critical as much as comical. Not to be a jerk, but it honestly kind of sounds like you dropped the ball a bit, forgot about writing a recap, and then two days after, having a bit of trouble recalling what happened, thought, "hey, how bout I just say, kind of unmemorable?" haha. Seriously, like four out of seven paragraphs here are either about the season finale a year ago, or your personal "hardships" not losing your "sanity" having to watch two shows and write two essentially, seven paragraph reviews on a weekly basis. Gonna be honest, doesn't sound like the type of situation in which your sanity should be compromised bro. Really feel like in the big scheme of things, if you're running circles around the office, hands in air, just freaking out because because you have to write two articles on 2 hours of television, you might have some deeper issues. Now, I don't want to beat you up too badly. In all honesty, I appreciate the fact you are not a reviewer who simply recaps every detail of the episode as if we didn't see it ourselves, but I'm willing to bet, you have far more potential than this. We all miss Jimmy, but the dude is dead, its 1923, time to move on. So come on man, you work for Time for goodness sake, man up. You got this. 

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 "Not to be a jerk, but it honestly kind of sounds like you dropped the

ball a bit, forgot about writing a recap, and then two days after,

having a bit of trouble recalling what happened..."

Or, as I wrote: I reviewed Boardwalk weekly last year, decided not to this year (in favor of Homeland, which I did not recap last fall), and thought I should explain why to my blog readers. But choose the explanation that you like better!

lucelucy
lucelucy

 Or, as James reminds us from time to time, this is his blog, not his column.  There isn't room in the once a week column to review every show on TV either.  Here he gets to write about what he wants to write about.  I love his take on things, but I don't watch comedies or Breaking Bad.  Wish he concentrated more on the stuff *I* like.  But you know, that's not his job either.  That being said, I'll keep watching BE because of the way it portrays women, African Americans, and other important issues at the turn of the century. 

ImtheSpacePope
ImtheSpacePope

Any recommendations on who will do a weekly recap? I like your stuff, but I do like reading weekly recaps. I know Tim Goodman says he's not doing much recaps either (is this a trend amongst tv critics lol?)

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 AV Club and Sepinwall are still pretty much all-recaps-all-the-time. (Or mostly-recaps-most-of-the-time.) I don't know if it's a "trend," but I think there are other critics now who feel there is a surplus of recaps out there as is. I have nothing against recaps--I like them too, I still write some--but there are other kinds of criticism besides weekly reviews, and I'd rather spread my attention around to more different shows, media criticism, election coverage, etc., which the numerous recaps sites aren't doing so much.

ritabridget
ritabridget

Boardwalk Empire is my favorite television show !  Homeland?  Tried to watch it due to the hype, was bored stiff

Omagus
Omagus

I'm still watching...but after the first episode I suspect that the show will miss Jimmy a lot more than I realized. And with Homeland coming back in a couple of weeks, I'm beginning to consider whether or not Boardwalk Empire deserves to still be in my DVR queue.