The jewel in Sky Atlantic’s crown is Boardwalking back into our lives this evening and after drinking in the first episode of the new series we’ve decided that while Terence Winter’s paean to Prohibition can distill get better, it’s the best thing on our tellyboxes right now. Why? We’re glad you asked. We’ve used up all our rubbish puns so read on and find stout. Sorry.
1. A Quick Return. After ploughing enough cash to keep the England football team in super-injunctions into the show, a second series was as good as guaranteed, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when HBO confirmed a return before it had even debuted in the UK. The first series hit American screens this time last year, but with Sky Atlantic launching this February we were subjected to the dreaded trans-continental time-lag. We’re only two weeks behind our American friends this time though and the net result is that it’s been less than six months since we last saw Nucky & Co and all those awesome hats. Mad Men take note..
2. Production Values. Blah blah blah.. attention to detail etc. It’s all been said before, but Boardwalk is another example of how HBO really can be ‘more than just TV’. As such, it isn’t simply a show but a lesson in cultural immersion. Disbelief isn’t so much suspended as expelled and fast-tracked to borstal.
3. The Hats. Brilliant hats..
4. TRAGEDY! It would be painfully simple to label Winter’s booze-soaked tour de force as downbeat, but everywhere you look there are powerfully heart-rending vignettes punctuating the plot. Half-faced sharp-shooter Harrow provides the main arc of distress, but Van Alden’s desperately infertile wife and Nucky’s dark upbringing also tap into a running theme. None of these examples can match the case of Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend though. A good-looking girl with eyes on a career in showbiz, Pearl’s whole future was blown away when her face became collateral damage in Atlantic City’s gang war. It was just one of many tales that imbues the series with a hard edge and reminds viewers that these characters were living in tough and often brutal times.
5. Ladies Ladies. Many critics have suggested that the writers should develop the female members of the cast as individuals rather than as secondary characters who are defined by their relationships with men, yet you could argue that this is simply an accurate portrayal of society as it existed during the period. One of the many reasons that HBO chose the 1920s as their canvas was the shifting social norms, so we can expect people like Jimmy’s wife to keep growing as the show progresses. Margaret Schroeder is also something of an anomaly at this stage. She might be a stiff-backed feminist one minute and a contented kept-woman the next, but she (and Jimmy’s mother) demonstrate how compromise and practicality were the biggest tools in a ladies locker. The vote will be a game-changer.
6. All The Small Things. There’s a scene in the first episode of the new series in which Jimmy’s mother tells his wife that she used to kiss her son’s “little winky” when she changed his diaper as a baby. The director leaves us and Angie to sit in uncomfortable silence for a couple of seconds before sweeping off to the next scene. We also meet George Remus, a real-life lawyer-turned-bootlegger who memorised the Volstead Act and became the Mr Loophole of the 1920s. He refers to himself in the third person. These things don’t contribute anything to the plot that can be easily quantified, but such embellishments make everything seem more tangible. Life itself is full of pregnant pauses, awkward moments and personal flourishes, but translating these to the screen isn’t an easy thing to do. Boardwalk manages it effortlessly.
7. Rise of the B-Character. No one had Agent Van Alden at the top of their list when Scorsese’s pilot hit our screens in February, but it looks like he could be the most fascinating character of the new offering. Played by the fabulously shark-eyed Michael Shannon, the Prohibition agent is a whirlwind of personal conflict and has been well beyond the edge ever since he committed the most public murder since Lincoln’s theatre assassination. The whole triangle between him, his wife (who we’re warming to after the first the series two opener) and Miss Danziger should be interesting. Didn’t she used to sleep with Nucky? Hmmm..