Boardwalk Empire is HBO's new big budget drama series created by former Sopranos writer Terence Winter and whose first episode is directed by Martin Scorsese. Yes, that Martin Scorsese! Set in Atlantic City, 1920, at the start of prohibition it is a sprawling, epic gangster drama that revolves around Nucky Johnson (Steve Buscemi);treasurer of Atlantic City and also the man running the illegal alcohol trade in the city. So, part politician, part gangster.
The majority of this first episode revolves around Nucky and his protege Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) who's been under Nucky's wing since he was a kid who has just returned from WWI, and setting up his liquor deals with Chicago and New York. These two elements alone could probably sustain a pretty decent series, but there are hints at more.
Several characters that will surely become more prominent as the series progresses get barely any screen time. FBI agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is obviously going to be the face of law enforcement, but only gets a couple of scenes shadily watching people meet. Kelly McDonald (Trainspotting, No Country For Old Men) does very little as Margaret, a preganat woman who Nucky connects with. Stephen Graham (This is England's Compo) is a young Al Capone. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) plays Arnold Rothstein, a very shady New York gangster who I guess will become Nucky's nemesis. And Omar Little himself (Michael Kenneth Williams) only gets one line as Chalky White.
In typical HBO style this is going to be a slow building series and is impossible to fully judge based solely on this opening, but it's a fairly perfect way to start. This really has the potential to be up there with the likes of The Wire, Deadwood, Galactica and Lost as one of the great TV dramas. But it could turn out to just be good and the added Scorsese elevates the opening. I've now got to decide whether to watch it week to week for just wait for it to completely air and then watch the series as a whole. That may depend on how good the other new shows this autumn are.