No new show was built higher… and made to fall farther than HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Even as the highly anticipated premiere approached, a small stream of negative buzz and backlash began to surface.I first saw the ads for the new series as I sat down for The Pacific Nucky Thompson’s line of pure exposition was fresh and exciting at the time and the proposition of seeing Michael Pitt in a meaty, mainstream role was promising.
The hour and a half long pilot won praise from both the critics and audiences alike. The show averaged 4.8 million viewers – a record for HBO and enough to warrant renewal for a second season. And why not? HBO treated its viewers to the latest feature length production from none other than the man who brought us Goodfellas, Mean Streets and The Departed.The show couldn’t possibly fail. But it did…sort of.
While the first episode made great use of the show’s elaborate rendition of the Atlantic City Boardwalk with the bustling fanfare of Dixie bands, side-shows and carnival games, the second episode was much quieter focusing more on character interactions than place.
This was to be expected as it’s the pilot episodes job to introduce us to the show’s Who, What, Where, and When – it’s also worth noting that second episodes are shot well after pilots, and Boardwalk is no exception. Now that the show is nearing the end of its inaugural season (and significantly lower ratings), it’s clear that the first episode was vastly different from what the show turned out to be.
In a B.S. Report interview with Lost producer Carlton Cuse, host Bill Simmons asserted Lost would be the last show of its kind and the days of the big budget network drama were over. Simmons also said the television drama will transform to a series of interpersonal interactions, often indoors and between no more than three characters. HBO’s newest drama couldn’t represent that transition more clearly.
With this transition, show’s such as Boardwalk Empire will serve only to confuse viewers who don’t give it a chance. This isn’t the epic look at the emergence of organized crime that audiences thought it would be but a small examination of a place and time leading up to The Great Depression and what some will do to make sure they don’t fall victim to a very prevalent lower-middle class.