The following is a review for Boardwalk Empire (2010-2015).
Set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s, Boardwalk Empire tells the story of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the treasurer of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Due to his relationships with mobsters as well as political contacts, the Federal Government starts to take an interest in him. The show focuses on the crime syndicates of Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago.
The show blends factual characters with fictional elements. Nucky Thompson is based on Nucky Johnson, the real life boss who controlled Atlantic City. Real characters include Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, Johnny Torrio, and Meyer Lansky among others. In addition to the real characters, other fictional characters (or loose interpretations) are added to make the narrative work. This creates a fascinating criminal underworld dealing with bootlegging, corruption and murder. We really get to experience how ruthless these mobsters could be.
Boardwalk Empire premiered with massive expectations. After all, Terrance Winter created the show and Martin Scorsese served as executive producer (while also directing the pilot). Winter also was a writer and executive producer on The Sopranos. Many other writers and directors from The Sopranos joined Winter to work on Boardwalk Empire. So the comparisons to The Sopranos seem inevitable, albeit unfair (after all The Sopranos is widely regarded as the best television show of all-time).
With a reported budget of nearly 50 million for the first season alone, the scale is massive as anything to ever appear on television.
While these expectations may have been impossible to match, Boardwalk Empire will always feel like a missed opportunity to me. With such a big scope, it sometimes feels like too much time is wasted on meaningless story lines for minor characters we don't really care about. The death of a certain character a few seasons in also dramatically changed the arc of several characters and significantly altered the show's structure.
Don't get me wrong, Boardwalk Empire still proved to be a great show. Through great storytelling, the show remained strong for the next few seasons. But I don't think it was ever able to reach the heights of the early seasons again (which were among the best on television). Consistency was a problem as a certain dynamic that made the show so successful was lost.
However, the biggest problem with Boardwalk Empire ended up being its premature cancellation. With a decline in ratings and budget concerns, HBO surprisingly announced that a shortened final season would be its last.
This final season will be most damaging to Boardwalk Empire's legacy. Based on how things ended in Season 4, it was clear they had no intentions of ending the show just yet (they were setting up new story lines instead of wrapping them up). Instead of the usual 12 episodes, the final season only featured 8.
Not only that, but the final season features a time jump of 7 years from where we left off. 7 years is a long time. It feels like we skipped 5 chapters are placed right at the end of the story. It just feels off.
The final season also features an ongoing flashback sequence that proves pointless and doesn't add anything to the story we didn't know already. We spent so much time we these characters, it's a shame we didn't get to experience their full journey.
The whole season feels rushed because they are trying to wrap everything up in a measly 8 episodes. With so many characters and story lines, it proves to be an impossibility. The signature tension and suspense the show usually displays isn't as prevalent because they didn't have the time to build the stories like the previous seasons.
Boardwalk Empire had so much potential. It's a shame HBO had to ruin it by canceling it too soon. Even though it was never able to live up to the impossible expectations, Boardwalk Empire was one of the better shows on television, providing great entertainment and insight into life in the 1920s.