http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2...-a-royal-pain/"Boardwalk Empire" is a royal pain
When: Sunday, 9 p.m.
In 1920, America was embarking on an extreme cultural makeover. The boys were home from World War I, women were about to get the vote, Wall Street was exploding, and a million flappers were preparing to dive into a million gallons of bathtub gin.
With its resorts, nightclubs and famed boardwalk, Atlantic City was the faux jewel in the crown of 1920s America, and in HBO's new Boardwalk Empire, no expense has been spared in re-creating those oceanside pleasure palaces. But in Sunday's 75-minute debut episode, both the brassy city and the brash era seem tired and tinny.
Dependable oddball Steve Buscemi stars as the real-life Enoch Nucky Thompson, the town treasurer who is also the wheeling-dealing king of the city's backroom underworld. Whether you want booze, babes or a little bureaucratic somethin'-somethin', Nucky is your guy. And when the series kicks off, Nucky is gearing up for the dawn of Prohibition and the windfall of a lifetime.
We've got a product a fella's gotta have, Nucky tells his fellow kingpins. And when midnight rolls around, the nightclub band plays Taps while Nucky and the gang toast the temperance movement that is going to turn their lives into one big money party.
But there are some flies in Nucky's rum punch, and you don't have to be a student of the Warner Bros. gangster-movie catalog to see them coming.
First up is Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt, The Village), who has returned from the war with ambitions to be more than Nucky's driver. A chance meeting with a fellow flunky with a notorious name puts Jimmy on his upwardly mobile path with predictably violent results.
Nucky's rumrunning activities also put him in the company of such notorious businessmen as crime boss Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and an up-and-comer named Al Capone (Stephen Graham). As we discover in an opera-accompanied montage straight out of The Godfather, Nucky's partners in speak-easy crime are not a particularly civil bunch. Nucky may be taken aback by the bloody turn of events, but you won't be.
In fact, you won't be surprised by much Boardwalk Empire has up its impeccably tailored sleeve. Sunday's episode was written by creator Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and directed by Martin Scorsese, but almost nothing on the screen lives up to their reputations.
From the sympathy-inducing plot involving Nucky's relationship with an Irish immigrant (Kelly Macdonald, No Country for Old Men) to Jimmy's back-channel scheming, Boardwalk Empire is as creaky as the boardwalk itself. This being HBO, the language is flashily foul and the nudity is graphic and mostly gratuitous. Given the rote nature of the story lines, neither adults-only extra helps much.
The always-appealing Macdonald makes her character more than just a little woman in distress, and the daft Dabney Coleman is inspired as Nucky's loony mentor. But as terrific as he is in supporting roles, Buscemi seems too small and shifty to play Nucky with the big-time flair the character needs.
With its big historical ambitions, swanky period details and impressive pedigree, Boardwalk Empire cuts a striking TV figure, and most critics have been wowed by what they've seen. But if you are also dubious after Sunday's debut, come join me at my table in the Cranky Corner. There are plenty of Doubter's Daiquiris to go around.