TV Review – Boardwalk Empire Season Four – 3/5

Directors: Tim van Patten, Alik Sakharov,Allen Coulter, Ed Bianchi et al

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, Kelly Macdonald, Patricia Arquette, Michael Shannon, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, Shea Whigham, Gretchen Moll, Margot Bingham

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Lucky Nucky, he got them Atlantic city leeches feeding off him like sucky sucky, but then relations go yucky and he has to get his hands all mucky before he gets chucky(ed) out of the city or fucky(ed over) by his adversaries. Lyrical writing -that’s why you all come to Movie Quibble, and it never disappoints!

Boardwalk Empire’s first, second and – even after the exit of the cornerstone character – third seasons have been beautifully weaved, complex and progressively engrossing depictions of historical upheaval in 1920s America. On its seductively smoke-shrouded surface, Boardwalk Empire seems to have a rather formulaic – some may say exploitative – composition: Booze, brawls, bloodshed, broads, burlesque, booze, bourbon and booze. There’s a lot of that, of course there is – it’s an HBO gangster show after all- but Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese’s prohibition lovechild has always been much more than meets the eye.

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Season number four of this illustrious political drama is, sadly, significantly less than it appears and, after becoming physically dependent on the initial three series, is more than merely disappointing. In the same way that Downton Abbey has gotten away with being Eastenders during Dickensian week, within two episodes Boardwalk deteriorates into well-produced, fantastic-looking but nonetheless palpably week-night soap opera television. The moment second-in-command Eli Thompson ‘s (Shea Wingham) contumacious eldest son William heads off to university, crying over flapper girls and jockstrapping bullies, the scripting takes a seawards divebomb, a plummet which the HBOeing 747 needs several episodes to pull itself out of. Willie sure ain’t no Jimmy.

Then there’s Ron Livingston, the randomness of his appearance being qualified with the excellence of his role as the doting bachelor of Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol). Livingston inveigles himself into the psyche of long-term Boardwalkers with ease,along the way earning himself one of the greatest character turnarounds of the series so far. Patricia Arquette (Mom from Boyhood) is another stray cat dragged in from the harsh wastelands of the ageing character actor, playing a Floridian barmaid with one or two tricks up her sleeve – she proves more than a match for Steve Buscemi’s big boy on campus Nucky Thompson, although their shared scenes scream of falsehood. No matter how good the actor, the Boardwalk showrunners cannot mask their crutching on saucy polemics and stunt casting.

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Boardwalk’s Best Character award goes, once again, to Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) but Chalky White has a couple of timeless quotes that your bookcase-building asses won’t be forgetting for a long time to come. He’s the best, and a crippling hunch says that he’s going to be getting into some serious shit in season five, which is apparently going to be the concluding chapter. Probably a good thing, because if Terence Winter and Co. can’t get their oeuvre back up to scratch with their final effort then any further attempts at recouping that lost magic will prove as dismal as a bunch of agents from the Bureau of Prohibition getting into some absinthe.

Four’s finale is pretty thrilling, though not as damaging as one might well expect given the earth shattering events of two and three’s endings, yet it promises new things for the future. As usual a couple of characters are dropped that really oughtn’t have left, but that’s an industry standard – you have to keep the show interesting, and actors have to move on too. Season five is currently airing, so you should pay for Sky Atlantic or HBO Go or, if you really want to get enliven the spirit of the bootleggers of old, download it illegally. Which Movie Quibble does not condone. Equally, it does not condone watching twelve hours of Boardwalk Empire in two days, but it feels pretty good.

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