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TV Series Review

There's nothing like the seaside near Atlantic City—not for the harried New Yorkers who retreated to the beach in the 1920s and '30s. It's as pretty as a postcard, this beach—the sand, the sky, the rolling waves. But the water here is dark, too, and cold. There might be anything underneath its surface: rocks, trash, fish, even crabs that might sink their hard pincers into soft flesh.

Atlantic City itself is no different, really. Nor is its "emperor," Enoch Thompson. Enoch—Nucky to his friends—is one of the city's most beloved politicians, a Republican who cares for the locals and was once a staunch supporter of Prohibition. But he's also a crime lord, actively engaged in selling booze at a killer profit while killing anyone who might get in the way. Under his leadership, Atlantic City has become a haven for vice and debauchery. He ruthlessly rules over his boardwalk empire, holding it in a gloved hand soaked with liquor and blood.

HBO's ambitious series Boardwalk Empire mixes fractious fiction with sordid fact—presenting an Atlantic City history filled with colorful and ruthless crime bosses most of us have heard of: Al Capone. Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Meyer Lansky. (Nucky is based on the real-life Enoch Johnson, who was eventually jailed on tax evasion charges in 1941.) Theirs is a world filled with three-piece suits and fedoras, illicit booze and drive-by hits.

The pilot episode was directed by no less a filmmaking luminary than Martin Scorsese (at an estimated cost of $18 million). And the series has gone on to win 17 Emmys. But it has never been a pleasant walk down Park Place. It is, in fact, one of the most violent programs on television.

With so many mobsters in play, you'd expect a few to get offed, and so they do. They're ambushed and gunned down, blood pooling around their wound-riddled bodies. They're drowned. Stabbed. Chopped up. Crumpled and smashed. Rarely does HBO give us an episode in which everyone in it survives to the credits.

Sexual sleaze surrounds these goons. In addition to bootlegging, Nucky has his hands in prostitution and gambling. Foul language includes unfiltered f-words.

This is Atlantic City at its most debased—the original Sin City, if you will. If the seaside hot spot more resembled Martha's Vineyard, I doubt HBO would've been much interested. I mean, really, what was the last original HBO program that wasn't interested in such debasement?

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Boardwalk-Empire: 9-7-2014



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Steve Buscemi as Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson; Stephen Graham as Al Capone; Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano; Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Schroeder; Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden; Shea Whigham as Elias 'Eli' Thompson; Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein; Michael K. Williams as Chalky White; Anatol Yusef as Meyer Lansky






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Paul Asay

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