Season 1 – I don’t watch a lot of HBO shows or have so in the past. I missed out on “The Sopranos”, “Deadwood”, “Rome”, “The Wire” and probably a couple others I can’t name now. I do plan on watching “Game of Thrones” (have season one since it aired) after I read the book(s). I know HBO shows are critically acclaimed, but I don’t always want to watch a lot of shows with violence, nudity and general darkness. I have been more open about TV dramas this year though. I have also taken on to watching more silly CW shows than ever so I guess I can even it out with serious stuff like Homeland and Boardwalk Empire.
When I first heard about this show, the only thing the piqued my interest was that Steve Buscemi was going to be the lead. I think I’ve had a soft spot for Buscemi since Ghost World. As Nucky Thompson, he was grounding in the first season. The character is not a saint and generally bad, but he has some core decency. He isn’t a character I would want to be friends with, but he is interesting and entertaining enough for me to root for him. There is something about Buscemi that works here since Nucky is a pretty despicable guy, but he does have a kindness to him. This is how Buscemi has always appeared to me; he is a very good character actor that way. It’s hard to balance the discomfortable characters he plays, but also showcase their goodness (however small it may be).
Another reason I tuned in to this series was Kelly McDonald who I’ve liked since Gosford Park (and many other things). She gives her sweetness to the role of Margaret. After the Buscemi scenes, I cared about her scenes second. I need a good relationship to keep me anchored to a show, and Margaret/Nucky did it for me in the first season.
The other lead is Michael Pitt who plays Jimmy. He isn’t a bad actor, but I am very indifferent to the character’s storyline and Pitt looks like a poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio. The fact that Martin Scorcese produces this show doesn’t help this fact. I’ve watched DiCaprio for years so every time Pitt came on, he just reminded me of him and made me think Scorcese cast him due to their resemblance. They even have a similar voice / speaking style. I know they set him up to be the new kid, the WWI vet, but I found it hard to root for him. Also, it was a lot of violence on his end that I’m not crazy about it either.
Rounding out the cast as notable mentions are Michael Shannon as Agent Van Alden who is very creepy and scary. Also scary is Stephen Graham. I’ve seen him in This is England (haven’t seen the tv series), Public Enemies and a couple of other things. He’s done a number of roles as criminals. Physically, he is similar to Capone and he is good at playing these parts, but he’s playing someone 15 years younger than himself which I noticed right in the pilot since Jimmy claims they are the “same age”. Having said that, I didn’t really care about the Chicago story lines much either.
I’ve seem to have espoused the acting, but with these kind of shows, I hang onto that. The writing and the visuals are very good too. I think it has its moments of funny, but not necessarily levity. These kind of stories don’t have black and white heroes and villains, but personally, I know who I am rooting for in this show. Or at least who I find most interesting, but I went in with the bias for Buscemi. I really did like Season 1 though, and thanks to technology, I was able to watch Season 2 not so long after.
Season 2 – There is a rather large cast of characters to this drama, and lately, I’ve been less inclined to like ensemble dramas. Too many characters and side plots sometimes slows the pacing of the show or not all the secondary characters are interesting. Actually in this season, I found a few of the secondary characters more interesting.
Most notably Arnold Rothstein, Chalky White, and Richard Harrow. Also Owen Seaty, but he’s only been on one season. I appreciated AR in the first season and I wanted more of him in the second. While my opinion seemed to waver, my fascination for AR began to grow. I think he is the most intellectual of the mob bosses and in that way, the most mysterious, but the most controlled. I also liked Chalky White’s plot just to see his family life, his community and the racial tensions of the time. Finally, I liked Harrow in season 1 and more so that they continue to develop his sad and lonely life. He is technically a bit creepy, but on this show, he is actually not the creepiest character and one of the saddest I think.
I really liked Margaret in the beginning of this series. I was afraid that with the introduction of the Irish boy Owen Sleater, there would be an irksome triangle. But he is cute and Kelly McDonald can have chemistry with most men so it worked out. Still, I became increasingly bored with Margaret in the final episodes when she got all religious. She’s had doubts about it before, but the Margaret from the beginning of season 2 and the end are so different. Almost a regression actually. I rather she have continued with the thing with Owen, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like triangles.
My biggest issue with season 2 was the Jimmy storyline. While I no longer see Pitt as a poor man’s DiCaprio (maybe a hobo’s Dicaprio), the storyline with Jimmy and his mother was nasty. They went full on Oedipux Rex with that family. I found this contrived, over the top, and flashy. This show isn’t always subtle, but that was just ridiculous.
This season also felt more violent which is understandable but it got a bit more gory than before. I don’t mind violence and sexuality used in shows that much, but sometimes with HBO and other cable networks, they put the elements in as if they are obligated to do so to shock and entertain rather than let it actually be part of the plot and characters.
Finally, Nucky’s character was slightly more villainous this season. He’s always been an amoral character, but season 2 seems to show his immorality more. He loses a bit of his complexity this way and so did some of the other characters. I still enjoy this show a lot and as someone who doesn’t love a lot of ensemble shows anymore, this was very enjoyable.
Watched February 4th-6th 2012