Fans of HBO and good TV in general, had ample reason to think that Boardwalk Empire was going to be great and Season One was a major reward of that trust. The show manages to do what many great recent shows have done (Deadwood, The Sopranos, Dexter) in taking a seemingly despicable human being (in this case politician bootlegger Enoch "Nucky" Thompson) seriously enough to explore their broken humanity and the context it plays out in. In this case the context is the boardwalk of Atlantic City during prohibition. Like Deadwood, this is a show that knows how to incorporate and combine historical period characters to dramatic effect bending history to it's narrative whims without losing site of what has made those characters pass into legend. Al Capone, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, the Feds, the molls and the boardwalk rats all come to life through an ace cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Kelly MacDonald, Shea Whigham, Paz de la Huerta, Gretchen Mol, and a host of other. This is a stunning combination of recognizable underused faces and fabulous new talent. It should be mentioned that Buscemi himself simply owns every moment he's onscreen. What a joy to watch him pass through such a rich tapestry of 20's politicking, rum running, boot licking, and turf warring without losing sight of what is relevent in the here and now. Sometimes watching this show feels like getting a front row seat at out own broken society and it's struggles with greed, ambition and lack of moral authority. To be sure writer Terence Winter plays fast and loose with history but rarely has TV felt so connected to history.
Executive producer, and director of the pilot Martin Scorcese is in a grand late career phase, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and producing deeply moving work in the last few years. Boardwalk Empire, Hugo and Shutter Island are all far more entertaining and and cinematically adventurous than The Departed, The Aviator or even the gorgeous if highly problematic Gangs of New York. The directors that have followed him on the show have all been careful to represent the signature look and feel Scorcese set in motion but the first season results are never anything less than dynamic.
Obviously this is one stunning looking stunning sounding BluRay set. HBO rarely produces anything else. The extras are solid as well. Audio commentary on six of the twelve episodes is nice and it's supplemented a Making of, a look back the actual Atlantic City History and the era of the speakeasy. The set also includes pic in pic enhanced viewing which neatly incorporates the other extras.