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Boardwalk Empire on DVD Season One

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Compelling, nuanced and engagingly lurid, Boardwalk Empire on DVD is a week and a half of the best television ever made – unless you drop into maximum video gluttony and burn through the entire box set in a couple of nights. Rare indeed is the series more likely to tempt its viewers into viewing it all at once.

Boardwalk Empire chronicles the fast life and dangerous times of one Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a fictionalized shade of politician and gangster Enoch Johnson, who ran Atlantic City, New Jersey during prohibition. Like his real-world doppelganger, Nucky Thompson has risen through the power structure of the east-coast Republican party, and there isn’t a mouse sneezing in Atlantic City he isn’t aware of, taking bets on or shaking down for protection money.

Opening on the eve of prohibition, Boardwalk Empire is populated by characters that are sufficiently three-dimensional to leap from your television set and offer you shot of bootleg whiskey. Some, like Arnold Rothstein, Al Capone and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, strode the actual Atlantic City boardwalk, back in the day – the cast is a tight fusion of real and imaginary personalities.

The actors who infuse the shadows and glitter of Boardwalk Empire with life and sinister intent are singularly brilliant, each one seeming to have been prepared for their roles since birth. Nucky Thompson himself is played with a dark, creepy intensity that will make even jaded veterans of The Sopranos glad that his real-world namesake has been dead since 1968.

Boardwalk Empire is an intricate tangle of stories, subplots, innuendo and suspicion, and it’s pretty much impossible to guess what’s going to happen next. Its writing is flawless – its story lines are alternately a shameless tease and darkly satisfying. It probably also needs be mentioned that they’re somewhat bloodthirsty and as sinfully wanton as the roaring twenties could hope to get. Some of the characters spend sufficient time in bed with each other as to make one wonder where they found the time to smuggle liquor, rig elections and gun each other down.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Boardwalk Empire is the Atlantic City boardwalk, recreated in flawless, rusted, seedy detail. While the set is only about three hundred feet long, it was composited with CGI to faithfully reproduce the entire eight miles of the original. In fact, the set was built in New York – the production’s CG artists also successfully removed the Empire State Building peering over its weather-beaten wooden structures.

The first season of Boardwalk Empire attracted enough critical praise and awards to bury the entire eight miles of the original Atlantic City boardwalk to a depth of six feet, including eighteen Emmy nominations. Happily, it has been picked up by HBO for a second season as of this writing. Unhappily, it probably won’t arrive for another year. It’s arguably worth the wait – Boardwalk Empire is among those few television shows that are just way too good to watch on television.