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HBO Makes Brooklyn into a Boardwalk Empire

The new HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" Airs on Sunday

Friday, September 17, 2010

The mustachioed and suspendered citizens of North Brooklyn have had some similarly dressed—albeit slightly shady—company in the past few months. The streets of Greenpoint and other areas of Brooklyn have been taken over by the gangsters, prohibitionists and corrupt souls of HBO’s new show, “Boardwalk Empire”, which premiered on Sunday.

Although it was based on the relatively small-time 2002 book of the same name by New Jersey judge and author Nelson Johnson, "Boardwalk Empire" has pulled some big-time New York acts. The famous eyebrows of Martin Scorsese frown from the director’s chair and Brooklyn-native Steve Buscemi carries the lead role of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a 1920’s Atlantic City political poo-bah. Beloved (and Emmy-winning) "Sopranos" writer Terrence White created the show, which is billed as the chef-d’oeuvre of HBO’s new season.

As the unofficial mayor of Atlantic City on the eve of prohibition, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) leads the empire of the boardwalk with an iron fist—and two fists of booze. That is to say, Steve Buscemi plays every angle of the political corruption from the era of prohibition as Nucky Thompson, the fictionalized version of 1920’s real-life Nucky Johnson.

"As you know, in less than two hours, liquor will be declared illegal by decree of the distinguished gentleman of our nation’s congress," Nucky Thompson says to a long table of politicos and gangsters dressed to the hilt in the show's pilot. Raising his glass, he exclaims jubilantly: "To those beautiful, ignorant bastards!"

Many critics say Buscemi is an unlikely casting choice for a character dealing with both the bravado of gangster-dom as well as its sneaky underside. Although each frame of the show is packed with details inviting the viewers to step into 1920’s Atlantic City, they may have a hard time not thinking of the actor as he is in his smaller roles in Pulp Fiction, Fargo and Trees Lounge.

Still, television critic Kim Potts says audiences will do well to invest in a few episodes of "Boardwalk Empire".

"I think it’s a little harder for viewers to get into because it’s a period piece," Potts says. "It is definitely a little slower moving. There are so many characters, so many backstories, there is so much happening that I think it will take a few episodes just to get invested in the characters."

If it takes a few episodes to grasp the characters of Prohibition-era Atlantic City, it is not for wont of detail. The phone books, hat brims, and each plank and sign of the boardwalk have been meticulously researched and recreated à la "Mad Men" by a creative team on board with Scorsese’s notorious perfectionism. The streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn have no doubt never been so bedecked in swirling text and golden-hued lights, and Potts says that’s one of the show’s most exciting aspects.

"The accuracy to the detail of the sets and the costumes and little historical facts that they’ve put throughout the show is amazing," Potts says. "I’m hoping that the further along that we get, we get a little more action."

Given the high number of booze-sopped gangsters trolling about with antique pistols and big-time power, there will probably be no dearth of action to come.

HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" airs Sunday nights at 9 EST.

Did you notice anything Brooklyn about the premier of "Boardwalk Empire"? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

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