Three Seasons on the Boardwalk, Active and Passive

Hey! This post contains multiple spoilers for multiple seasons of “Boardwalk Empire.”  I only mention them when necessary but if that’s a problem for you then don’t read this  post. Don’t worry, I won’t blame you.

A while back I posted my impressions of the first season of Boardwalk Empire in which I came to the conclusion that the show was very different from what myself, others and HBO advertising wanted it to be. The last couple of  episodes that season also revealed that the show’s first outing was a lengthy character introduction and for the second season. It was different rather than a disappointment. The second season, succeeded in almost every way.

The second season worked because Jimmy Darmody, among others, became active characters in their quest to overthrow the Nucky Thompson’s claim on Atlantic City. He was also a complete work of fiction and therefore his character arc had limitless possibilities, along with being some of the most compelling. Everything about the build-up to the clash between Jimmy and Nucky worked on every level and the clash itself lived up to the hype. It was the decision to remove Jimmy from the show, while satisfying for that season, made for an underwhelming third season.

I should probably explain what I mean by “underwhelming,” because the last couple episodes of this season definitely brought everything together. I just didn’t enjoy the journey . Along with “Boardwalk Empire,” I only watch “The Walking Dead” during the fall cable season. Last year, “Boardwalk,” was appointment viewing while “Dead,” was relegated to the second run or on time delay later in the week. This was in part due to the poor the quality of The Walking Dead’s “Farm Season,” as it does my enjoyment of “Boardwalk Empire” second season. A year later, those shows switched modes and “Boardwalk” became passive through the majority of its season.

As I said before, the last few episodes really helped the season come together, both thematically and in terms of plot, especially since Nucky was finally working to change his situation. It makes for a boring show when you’re new lead is solely responsive after the more active counterpart was removed.

In reconciling the difference between this season and the similarly complex first season of “Game of Thrones,” another show with  a large cast in a season that moves inches until the last bunch of episodes. The two major differences I’ve come to is that “Thrones” is purely fiction and the only reliable way to explore Westeros is through either the show or the source material, whereas information about Atlantic City in the 1920’s is readily available from multiple historians.

This is the other reason. “Thrones,” has the feeling of sole author behind it, despite being David Beinoff and D.B. Weiss’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book series. While Terrence Winter may be the sole mind behind “Boardwalk,” his resources are nearly infinite in terms of information on characters plot and setting. This is one of the major reason’s why, at its worst, episodes are less than focused.

Active shows are much easier to enjoy. The acclaim for the first half of the current “The Walking Dead” season is proof of that. This isn’t to say the passive shows are bad. The second season of “The Wire,” and the first “Game of Thrones” season are proof that great seasons can  be a slow burn and are only recognized after the fact.

“Boardwalk Empire,” is one of the better shows on right now. There’s no denying the production value and the writers brought this season together so well that I’m contemplating a re-watch – something I’ve only done for the likes of  “Friday Night Lights” and “Arrested Development.” I feel safer heading into the next season than I ever have with this show. I was more excited to see where the show was going after the season two but now I know even when there might be a disappointing couple of episodes, I’m in sure hands.

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