In recent years, television shows have increasingly adopted cinematic tropes. Some of these can be found in current television series, nevertheless Boardwalk Empire is the pinnacle of this trend. Considering the first season of the show, here are ten reasons why Boardwalk Empire should be evaluated as a cinematic production, rather than a televisual one.
1. Martin Scorsese
One of Boardwalk Empire‘s executive producers and director of the pilot episode, the series has Martin Scorsese’s stamp all over it. The director’s preoccupations permeate the show, with themes of crime, morality and Catholic guilt consistently reoccurring. Early cinema also pops up rather frequently, and long time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker even acts as a consultant for the first episode.
The main players in Boardwalk Empire are all more associated with cinema rather than television. Protagonist Nucky is played by Steve Buscemi, while Michael Shannon and Kelly Macdonald are key cast members. Unlike some shows which feature movie stars in cameo roles, film actors are the main characters in the series. Even supporting roles are populated with actors more associated with film, Gretchen Mol as Gillian for example.
3. Production Values
Boardwalk Empire elevates itself above other television shows with its sublime sets, costuming and overall art direction. The attention to detail is fantastic, with music, artifacts and advertisements all given an authentic feel. The series is filmed beautifully, with a cinematic sheen given to the overall look. Depictions of gore look realistic too.
Given its period setting, it is unsurprising that events or incidents relating to the era pop up in Boardwalk Empire. Thankfully these never appear to be included for tokenistic value. Issues such as the women’s vote and the presence of the Ku Klux Klan are incorporated in the narrative in a naturalistic fashion. Unlike the ‘issue an episode’ format of shows such as Glee, the themes and historical references featured in Boardwalk Empire play a role in the overarching narrative and are often referred back to throughout the series.
5. Unfolding Plots
Plots in Boardwalk Empire are paced in a more deliberated way than many television shows. Narrative strands unfold in a more organic fashion than the often rushed method frequently employed by television. Although each episode features important events, there is not a sense of jumping ahead with a plot only introduced in the last episode. This is particularly pertinent as there is often a gap of weeks or months between when each episode is set.
6. Drama Not Gimmicks
Boardwalk Empire is a drama, though like most other films and shows it features additional elements. Despite the presence of violence and nudity, the series always retains its base in drama. Unlike True Blood which is increasingly becoming notorious for its graphic content (and The Sopranos before with its famed violence), drama remains the focus of Boardwalk Empire‘s appeal.
7. Episode Run Times
Boardwalk Empire distinguishes itself from most other television series through the differing lengths of the episodes. While television shows will often have a longer first or finale episode than the rest of the series, every episode of season one has at least a slightly different running time. The impression given by this is that the story unfolds at its own pace, rather than being constrained by the necessities of time slots and ad breaks.
A number of historical figures feature in Boardwalk Empire. Rather than token appearances, these characters are part of the main cast. Characters such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein take on integral roles. Rather than the caricatures they could have degenerated into, they appear authentic and always necessary to the plot.
9. Lack of Cliffhangers
Unlike many television shows, Boardwalk Empire does not end episodes on a cliffhanger. Although the overarching strands are left lingering, there is not the urgency of what directly follows in the next episode. In this way Boardwalk Empire distinguishes itself from shows that rely on teasing audiences in what is to follow next week.
10. Season Conclusion
Season one of Boardwalk Empire can be viewed as a single film in its entirety, albeit a prolonged and slightly episodic one. The season concludes the main plots in a satisfying manner. However, it does not tie up every single loose end, hinting at a sequel in the shape of season two. Like many good films, Boardwalk Empire leaves some questions unanswered, yet feels complete in the journey made during the twelve episodes.
Boardwalk Empire Season One is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.