TV preview: Boardwalk Empire

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Sunday’s premiere of “Boardwalk Empire” marks the return of one of 2010’s best dramas.

Following the typical HBO model for dramas, “Boardwalk Empire” began the first season by setting copious groundwork, introducing the numerous criminals and players and their motivations, before the action and tension hit full speed late in the season.

Complaints about the Prohibition series moving too slowly — at times it did lose some momentum — didn’t account for how HBO tends to do things. Just look at “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Deadwood,” especially in their early seasons.

Even HBO’s newest hit “Game of Thrones” took a while to get going, but, man, did it end magnificently. In fact, “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones” were structurally and thematically similar in their debut seasons, despite appearing to be vastly different.

One is a ’20s-era period piece and the other an epic fantasy yarn, but both were rooted in meditations about power, loyalty, corruption and (eventually) revenge.

“Boardwalk” creator Terence Winter hasn’t moved past his slow burn formula just yet.

The premiere opens with a bang when Chalky White’s (Michael Kenneth Williams) warehouse is attacked via Gatling gun by the KKK, but quickly returns to the stewing pace. The KKK doesn’t like Chalky because of his race, but there’s more than ignorant racism at play.

Attacking Chalky signals the growing insurgency Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) faces from those he believes are his closest allies.

Jimmy Darmody (the excellent, underrated Michael Pitt) is conspiring with his father, the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) against his surrogate father figure Nucky and his grip on Atlantic City through the illegal alcohol trade.

There are many more subplots and circumstances boiling underneath that will surely be woven in later, but this is the driving plot for now.

“Boardwalk Empire” may require careful viewing and patience to enjoy the richness of its complex characters, sets and plots, but the reward is well worth the effort.

"Boardwalk Empire"

9 p.m. Sundays on HBO

3.5 stars