Reviews In Review: Does ‘Boardwalk Empire’s Big Gamble Pay Off?

by | September 17, 2010 at 2:58 PM | Boardwalk Empire

HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' premieres Sunday, Sept. 19, at 9/8c

HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' premieres Sunday, Sept. 19, at 9/8c

Critics are praising HBO for having the intestinal fortitude to throw tens of millions of dollars into the production of its lavish new Atlantic City mob series ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ (premiering Sunday at 9/8c).

Fancast’s Inside Story: How HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Came To Brilliant Life

But despite the investment – and the involvement of movie legend Martin Scorsese (who directed the estimated $20 million ‘Boardwalk Empire’ pilot) and former ‘Sopranos’ writer/producer Terence Winter as executive producers – some critics are saying the series falls flat, while others are insisting it’s the best thing they’ve seen in years.

“It looks authentic in a way that, paradoxically, seems lifeless,” wrote Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker. “You’re constantly aware that you’re watching a period piece, albeit one with some vivid scenes and interesting details….  ‘Boardwalk Empire’ should be much more fun to watch.”

The New York Times agreed. Under the cheeky headline “Jersey Shore, the early years,” the Times‘ Alessandra Stanley felt Steve Buscemi was not quite up to carrying the production in the role of its lead character, a corrupt Atlantic City political boss.

“‘Boardwalk Empire’ is a well-conceived, beautifully made series that has every reason to be great,” she wrote.. “Yet, surprisingly [it] falls short…. One possible reason is that the star, Steve Buscemi, is hard to accept in the lead role of Enoch Thompson, known as Nucky, Atlantic City’s dashingly corrupt treasurer.”

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Among the critics who loved ‘Boardwalk Empire’ were two from the leading show business trade papers. “If the motto ‘It’s not TV. It’s HBO’ felt like an empty boast before, sample the network’s new series ‘Boardwalk Empire’…. Not since ‘Mad Men’ has a slice of history been so meticulously re-created for television,” wrote Andrew Wallenstein in The Hollywood Reporter.

Gushed Variety‘s Brian Lowry: “This is, quite simply, television at its finest, occupying a sweet spot that – for all the able competition – still remains unique to HBO: An expensive, explicit, character-driven program, tackling material no broadcast network or movie studio would dare touch.”

Just about every critic wrote about ‘Boardwalk Empire’ in the context of HBO’s other landmark mob series, ‘The Sopranos.’ “HBO has thrown a lot of money and talent at a problem – that problem being the sense that, even with the success of ‘True Blood,’ the channel has been running on fumes since the days of Tony [Soprano], Paulie Walnuts and company – and for once, that approach has succeeded,” wrote Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix.com. “‘Boardwalk Empire’ has sweep, style, grand characters and chilling moments. It’s fantastic.”

The critic for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Lloyd, put the series in perspective, basically saying it’s good, but not great. “It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he wrote, “but rather a well-made sort of sliced bread, a thing you have had before but prepared with quality ingredients by bakers who know their business.”

Fall TV Premiere Dates: Mark Your Calendar!

‘Boardwalk Empire’ premieres Sunday night at 9/8c on HBO. Based on these reviews, will you be watching?