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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season (2011)

HBO Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/28/2012

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/2/2012

In the early days of cable television, HBO was one of the first networks to begin creating their own programming. Up until that point, most cable stations simply showed older movies and TV shows. While HBO's early crop of original movies were pretty bland (they were all based on true stories, something the network has continued to this day), they've certainly had good luck with their original TV series. From current favorites like True Blood to ground-breakings shows like Sex and the City to early triumphs like Tales from the Crypt, HBO has shown a commitment to making quality shows. The odd thing about their programs is that even if you don't love them, you'll often find something about them to admire. Such is the case with Boardwalk Empire.

Boardwalk Empire takes place in Atlantic City in the early 1920s. As Prohibition has been passed, the illegal liquor trade becomes big business and no one is more involved in this than Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Nucky's official title is Treasurer of Atlantic City, but he's actually a crime kingpin who runs the town and controls its politicians. Along with his brother, Eli (Shea Whigham), who is the sheriff, Nucky moves amongst the world of both the criminal and political elite to ensure that he always gets what he wants. He's also aided by Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a World War I vet who is Nucky's right-hand man. Nucky is also a man of the people and often does things to make sure that those around him are happy. When he meets Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), an abused wife, he is immediately smitten by her and the two begin a relationship. However, there are many greedy forces who don't like Nucky and want to take the profits in Atlantic City for themselves.

Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire begins not long after the conclusion of Season 1. Nucky finds his life in a state of flux. After vacillating about his advances, Margaret has decided to enter into a relationship with Nucky and she and her children have moved into his home. While this is a positive for his personal life, Nucky's business is in jeopardy. Tired of always being in Nucky's shadow, Jimmy has decided to go into business for himself. This begins with some simple bootlegging deals, but he's soon convinced by his mother (Gretchen Mol) and his biological father (Dabney Coleman) (who once ran the city) that he can overthrow Nucky and become the big boss. Jimmy and his growing group of conspirators decide that instead of simply murdering Nucky, they will get rid of him in a unique way and have him brought up on election fraud charges. This causes Nucky to lose some of his power and factions from New York City and Philadelphia begin to horn in on his business. Meanwhile, Jimmy is learning that being in charge isn't as easy as Nucky made it look.

Like many of HBO's shows, Boardwalk Empire is a high-quality production which does many things correctly. It seems that no expense has been spared in recreating the world of 1921 Atlantic City. The production design and the sets are very impressive. This season we go into Nucky's house (as opposed to his suite at the Ritz) and it's a very interesting space, as is The Commodore's masculine mansion. The costumes look great as well, most notably the natty attire of Nucky and Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), the leader of the African-American community. Even the most insignificant props look authentic. The show also boasts a great cast and stellar acting. Buscemi continues to dazzle as Nucky, a man who attempts to always remain even-keeled, but can be scary when he gets angry. Nucky also hates change and Buscemi does a great job of having Nucky be incredulous. Kelly Macdonald has really come out of her shell and taken Margaret from a shy, insecure woman to someone who enjoys the lifestyle which Nucky can provide and really shows a strong side in Season 2.

My issues with Boardwalk Empire can in the storylines and the characters. Once of the nice things about HBO shows is that they have the time, the freedom, and apparently the budgets to create a very detailed world. These worlds can be populated by many characters. However, in shows like Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, the number of characters and subplots can get ridiculous. When a show does something like this, the average viewer is going to have the stories which they really care about and the ones which they don't, and when the latter is on-screen, their attention can begin to waiver. We get a lot of this in Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire, as the show explores the many different factions which want to have a piece of Nucky's pie. The other issue here is that many of these characters seem interchangeable -- they are all gangsters who are supposed to be differentiated by their ethnic background and the city from which they hail. This can make the show feel very redundant at times. Every meeting with Jimmy and his cohorts felt exactly the same. Also, some subplots don't seem to go anywhere. We follow the spiraling decline of hypocritical revenue agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon), but his storyline almost feels as if it's part of a different show at times.

These issues aside one of the nice things about Boardwalk Empire is that as it's about criminals, anyone can double-cross anyone else at any time, and thus, there is a palpable level of tension throughout the series. Considering how much I don't like the gangster genre, Boardwalk Empire must be a good show to keep me coming back. The series has some minor bumps, but overall, it's another quality piece from HBO.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season gives butcher shops a bad name on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Video. The five disc set contains all 12 episodes form the show's second season. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably bright tones as seen in Nucky's clothes, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the characters are nicely separated from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, showing good separation and detail. The surround sound effects come into play during crowd scenes and some of the violent sequences. The show's music sounds fine and the more important gunshots are punctuated through the subwoofer.

The Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Back to the Boardwalk", found on Disc 1, is a 15-minute recap of Season 1, hosted by Terence Winter. The running time of this piece should hint as to how much info it contains. Viewers can choose to watch the episodes with the "Character Dossier" function on. This allows access to brief bios of the main characters, which is nice, as the story can get confusing at times. Disc 1 features an AUDIO COMMENTARY on the episodes "21" from Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter, Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten, and actor Michael K. Williams. Disc 2 offers a COMMENTARY for the episode "Gimcrack & Bunkum" with Co-Executive Producer/Writer Howard Korder and actor Jack Huston. Disc 3 has a pair of COMMENTARIES. The first on "Peg of Old" with Korder, Co-Producer/Writer Steve Karnacki, Director Allen Coulter, and actor Charlie Cox. The second is on "Two Boats and a Lifeguard" which has Winter, Van Patten, and Steve Buscemi. The COMMENTARY on Disc 4 is found on "Under God's Power She Flourishes" with Korder, Coulter, and actress Gretchen Mol. Disc 4 also offers "Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode 11" (60 minutes) is a detailed documentary which also acts as a video commentary. Various players involved in the show describe the story and themes of the episodes and offer some details on the making of the show. Disc 5 kicks off with a COMMENTARY on "To the Lost" featuring Winter and Van Patten. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 5. "Living in 1921" is an interactive feature in which the viewer can access pull-down menus to learn more about history, people, culture, trends, and the arts some 90 years ago. "New Characters" (4 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, as it allows the new actors to discuss who they play and how they fit into the story. "Updates to the Boardwalk" (3 minutes) introduces us to and examines the new sets and locations for Season 2. "The Money Decade" (25 minutes) is a brief documentary which explores life in 1921. Through comments from historian and newsreel clips, we learn about the era and how Boardwalk Empire portrays the period.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long