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Entries in boardwalk empire (5)

Monday
Nov192012

In Which We Sleep On Nucky Thompson's Couch

Familiar Story

by DICK CHENEY

Boardwalk Empire
creator Terence Winter

You know what is a completely original idea I have never heard before? A woman in an unhappy marriage to a powerful man begins an affair with her husband's younger, attractive subordinate. The relationship comes about because of the ethnic connection between the two lovers. This general plot has never even been experimented with until now.

furio, your taste in fashion was unmatched by American men

Much of Terence Winter's Boardwalk Empire is a lot more interesting if you pretend The Sopranos never happened. (This is equally true if you have never seen Goodfellas or Casino.) There's actually a scene in Martin Scorsese's completely retarded blowjob of the Dalai Lama, Kundun, that I am completely reminded of every time I watch HBO's prohibition-era drama.

The potential child prophet is shown a variety of objects, some commonplace, other more valuable, on a woven blanket. Whichever object he selects, as in the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, indicates the likelihood he is a god returned to Earth to appear on Dr. Oz. (I believe roughly the same process was used to appoint Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the house, except the correct object in question was a needle filled with Botox.)

wait, someone might actually want to watch this guy. Let's exclusively give him scenes with Gretchen Mol. $$$$This reminds me of Boardwalk Empire insofar as the show's writers can't decide between a variety of individuals. There is an insane number of characters in Boardwalk Empire, actually over 100 of them, with 80 of those wearing an identical hat. It's difficult to know exactly who to focus on when you love them all the same. 

As a viewer, keeping track is exhilarating and discouraging, because whoever you do choose to invest in will likely end up bludgeoned by Bobby Cannavale or set on fire by Bobby Thompson. Both are unpleasant and humiliating, and make you wonder why no one was called Robert in the early part of last century.

so he decapitated a guy with a shovel, who hasn't done that?

Relatively safe from this merry-go-round of death is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Nucky had a very difficult home life as a child, and tries very hard to be a good stepfather to the children of his wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald). For some reason the fact that Nucky excels where his father failed does not really capture our attention the way that Tony Soprano's poor parenting did.

The writers of Boardwalk Empire can't possibly believe a few kind words outweigh the countless murders and the numerous infidelities Nucky implausibly consummated while succoring Broadway actress Billie Kent. Thompson was very nice to his girlfriend - she called him her gangster - but there is a hard and fast rule, in drama and in life, that being nice to someone who is going to die does not count.

Examining the weirdly sympathetic portrayal of Al Capone yields roughly the same feeling. The man who gave a bad name to so many Italian-Americans being presented as the heroic godfather and loving parent to a deaf child when he is basically their Osama Bin Laden leaves a terrible nausea in my sizable gut. It's roughly analogous to the disgust that rose inside me while I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II and terrorists blew up the USS Barack Obama. A sinking feeling. Get it?

Tommy, run

When I think about who I actually empathize with in Boardwalk Empire, my faith in people is usually destroyed within minutes of them garnering my favor. All the emotional reserves I placed in the Picasso-faced Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were destroyed the moment I saw him in a liquor commercial and his countenance wasn't half exploded. Marlon Brando would have rather clawed his eyes out, and I think a lot less of Terence Winter that he did not insist upon it.

the president also smokes after a fresh kyll

I won't make any more lighthearted remarks about how disgusting I find the constantly topless Gretchen Mol. Such commentary is completely misogynistic and diminishes the righteousness of my jokes about Nancy Pelosi. At least Gretchen is trying. I even received a nice jolt in my Dockers when the only living Mrs. Darmody had intercourse with an unemployed man who intensely resembled her late son. The pseudo-incest represented a sweet moment, akin to when George W. Bush makes Laura put on a massive white wig before doggystyle.

My momentary engagement with Gretchen's plight vanished when she drugged and drowned this Jimmy-lookalike in her whorehouse bathtub as a means of getting her son declared legally dead. I have never known a woman who actually killed a man, and I have certainly never known an attractive woman who has done this. That's as close to a compliment as I can pay Gretchen Mol.

"You're going to buy me a wedding ring and fly me to Honolulu? YESSSSSSSS"

The death of Nucky's handsome bodyguard Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) on last night's episode, due to the treachery of an Italian-Jewish coalition against the Irish, attempted to strike an ironic note. After Owen's body is sent to Nucky's home in a wooden crate, Margaret breaks down crying, recollecting the previous day when she told Owen she was pregnant with his baby. "Whatever you tell me next," she informs him before his passing, "let it be the truth." "I'm hoping it's a boy," he responds.

Despite our knowledge that this flashback presents Owen telling a fucking lie, he comes across as more human than he did during his entire run on Boardwalk Empire. Even a liar is endearing in the moments he's telling the truth. The disappointment comes afterwards.

Then, dreamy, half-amusing, half-tragic music sang him off. And now he looks like this:

Guess he promised marriage to some women in the Russian baths

The opening sequence of Boardwalk Empire has taken on a new meaning of late. Last night's episode took the discord between reality and fiction still further by watching American excesses flood the beaches of Atlantic City. Beachgoers rushed into the surf to claim bottles of whiskey floating in the water. Even if there never was a storm to later destroy that very boardwalk, this was metaphorical overkill. Using the past to say something about the present is inherently unfair. It's a dirty trick, the vain task whereby winners rewrite history according to their own impulses. Sure, Al Capone is still a disgusting gangster, and women weren't getting the diaphragms they justly deserved. But really, that can mean nothing to us now.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. He last wrote in these pages about the Showtime series Dexter. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Something In Between" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

"If You Have To Leave" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

Monday
Sep172012

In Which Gentlemen Remain Gentlemen For Some Reason

Long Long Ago

by DICK CHENEY

Downton Abbey
creator Julian Fellowes

Boardwalk Empire
creator Terence Winter

Downton Abbey returned last night. Not in America, because that would demand that American television executives had some idea of what people in their native country wanted to watch. Instead, on HBO, we were treated to a solid hour of Terence Winter's effort to prove he deserves some credit for The Sopranos. He achieved the opposite result, since it is now obvious to everyone that the only parts on The Sopranos he was responsible for were the boring ones, like when Tony was stuck in a dream for the entire fucking episode.

Judi Dench doing an American accent would have been lol but wtv

Here are some facts. If you plastered Shirley MacLaine's face on every billboard and bus in this country, they would have had roughly the same anticipation for her debut on Downton Abbey that I have been walking around with since 2012 began. I don't want to think about my country anymore; it simply makes me depressed. I want to think about when another country was slowly being torn apart by an elitism that would give way to an even more destructive socialism, not my own.

I'm a little tired of Margaret being suprised by everything. You're married to Nucky,
wipe that look of shock off your face lady

If you just watch Boardwalk Empire as a series of soundless still frames, it's one of the best shows on television. If you actually have to watch the pallid colors and characters weave and intersect, killing and destroying each other whenever they aren't at rest, it's a great deal more exhausting.

Taking screenshots of Boardwalk Empire is a lot more fun than actually enduring it. "Gentlemen remain gentlemen only when they must," Gretchen Mol croons. Do you know what this means? It's not that I don't think I'm capable of figuring it out, but why should I have to?

he wasn't the only one nodding off last night

When you kill off a bunch of characters on your television program, and one of them is not Gretchen Mol, you have some serious questions to answer. For example: how excited should you be about watching an entire season of men in badly fitted suits exchange packages of money and liquor?

Trying to find a place for your empathy to reside in this ethical morass is difficult. I would compare it to some current political situation, but that would slow down the number of rhetorical questions I plan to unfurl in this revue like so many overly clothed women. I have mailed them to Terence Winter in an envelope that included my head shot.

I was perfect for the part of Remus

Most of the Boardwalk Empire premiere takes place at a New Year's party at the home of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). It's a completely transparent effort to save on costs.

It's now easier to list what Boardwalk Empire isn't; it's the only possible way of figuring out what it is. Boardwalk Empire is not a satire or a parody. It's certainly not science fiction, except when it criticizes doctors of the period for not knowing much about prenatal care. It's not horror, fantasy, or pulp. It's not exciting, interesting or fun. It's not something you should try to enjoy, any more than, really, you should take pleasure in watching Italian men executing gentiles and Jews alike as if it were mere sport.

the sun never comes up in South Jersey

The show's primary new antagonist is Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale). Even he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than in Tabor Heights, NJ, where there is next to no natural light. After he is refused a shipment of rum from Nucky Thompson, he gives his new dog to Nucky's wife. The promise of the dog's head showing up in someone's bed is practically implied.

Meanwhile, the only domestic drama we can really feel invested in is the relationship between the one-eyed saint who used to carry Jimmy Darmody's water and Darmody's mother (Gretchen Mol). Remember her? I was going to say, "Remember her before she was hideous," but after a quick google search, I realize that was never the case.

"Rounders" was pure shit in retrospect

British people just have a lot more practice at idealizing their own history. There were slaves in England; you just never hear about them. There was a Men in Black style mass forgetting at some Beatles concert in the 1960s and since then the topic magically never comes up.

I mean, who cares that the entire continent of Europe is willing to fill their eyes and ears with sand when it comes to the threat of Islamic fascism? (Rhetorical.) Look at this!!!

I always thought that Lavinia was a bit of a whore

When Sybil came back to Downton Abbey, I jumped up and down and clapped. The only time I did that on Boardwalk Empire was the end because I was so glad it was over. I'm considering a back tattoo that reads, "THERE'S A NEW FOOTMAN IN THE HOUSE."

The new Sybil casually brings up contemporary novels like Swann's Way in conversations about her riding horse. When someone mentions liking Theodore Dreiser she giggles and licks her lips. If she wasn't a gentile, she could be Leon Trotsky's mother. If my daughter ran off with a Marxist, I would have killed Karl Marx. If he wasn't alive at that point, I would have directed my anger at Aaron Sorkin.

the new Sybil is really into Rage Against the Machine

With that said, watching the magisterial Downton return to normal after the changes wrought by the first World War is strange. It's hard to savor the importance of weddings and arrivals when so many more important things were lost in that miasma of death. You almost want them to fast forward to the next war where we find a middle-aged Sybil and Mary shepherding Jews into a potential abbatoir below their sitting rooms.

For those in other countries, especially the U.K., the ups and downs of class warfare never completely lost their luster/lustre. Seeing them in their environment is pleasing to us; like watching through the plate glass in an aquarium. Part of the reason Boardwalk Empire has been more successful abroad than here is that it hurts so much more to be witness to our own foibles.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States and a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about The Mindy Project.

"I heard Mary was giving it away, so I thought, why not get a piece?"

"The Undertaker's Daughter" - Seamus Fogarty (mp3)

"The Wind" - Seamus Fogarty (mp3)

The latest album from Seamus Fogarty is entitled God Damn You Mountain.

Arnold Rothstein, you beautiful little man

Monday
Oct172011

In Which We Never Rely On The Promises Of Drunkards

Unsympathetic Kingdom

by DICK CHENEY

Boardwalk Empire
creator Terence Winter

To find someone who really enjoys Boardwalk Empire, you need to find a very subtle and self-destructive person. Paranoiacs, specifically potheads, enjoy Boardwalk Empire more than regular people like you or me. Sitting down to enjoy Ken Burns' Prohibition requires an advanced degree, a willingness to pretend you have never see a documentary before now, today, and a stick with which to flay yourself. Sitting down to watch Boardwalk Empire requires all that and a suspension of your disbelief.

Last night Hulk Hogan wrestled his last match. I should say, he "wrestled" "his" "last" "match", because the match was so horrible it was difficult to tell if there were any wrestlers in it, and the outcome (he lost) was predetermined. Numerous back surgeries that have left Hogan, born Terry Bollea, a shell of his former, still-not very mobile self, and he could not take any bumps flat on his back, and indeed barely left his feet during the match at all. Despite his evident handicaps, and the fact that he was the de facto bad guy in the match, the Philadelphia crowd cheered him. After the match, he presented a disgusting photo of his back that will haunt me for all time.

his ex-wife's sailboat is called the "Alimoney", no joke

Hogan is one of the most notorious Italian-Americans since Al Capone. Although Capone should be the biggest heel in Boardwalk Empire, for some reason he is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky teenager. In last week's episode, his father died, and no one really cared, least of all Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. Finding a villain on Boardwalk Empire is easy, finding one you care about is a lot harder.

Instead of just promoting himself as Hulk Hogan, the conquering hero, Terry Bollea wanted to play a bad guy who is good deep down inside. The fact that Hogan's last match drew a pathetic crowd of only 2,500 in Philadelphia emphasizes the fact that the paying customers don't care about tortured souls, they only care about watching good guys and bad guys settle things in the ring.

The rings of Boardwalk Empire are its gorgeous and elaborate sets, which look to have cost a fortune. Considering the only person I know who likes Boardwalk Empire recently suffered a thematically timely stroke, the ratings cannot possibly be justifying the wanton spending. Many big-budget shows, in order to save costs, built concept episodes into their seasons, hour-long editions that only use one set: think Breaking Bad's "Fly" or The Sopranos' ultimate masterpiece "Pine Barrens" or "Soprano Home Movies." I cannot imagine wanting to be any one place in the New Jersey of a century ago for an hour.

In fact, everyone is a heel on Boardwalk Empire. Nucky Thompson's an election-rigging corpuscle of corruption, his common-law wife (Kelly Macdonald) rationalizes his behavior and regularly lies for him, his former protege Jimmy Darmody (the incredibly charismatic Michael Pitt) doesn't appreciate his guidance and kills someone in cold blood during every single episode, his own mentor the Commodore has a face that looks like a leather purse, and Nucky's two stepchildren would probably be better off on a raft back to Ireland. Last night the introduction of a new Jewish character featured him sharpening his knives.

Abe Foxman immediately raced to his computer and began blogging

Nucky's black friend Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) can't even get a hero's welcome after he assassinates a Klansmen defending his family. In order to make Paz de la Huerta sympathetic, the writers of Boardwalk Empire put a bun in her oven, forced her to weep for an entire sixty minutes and had her threaten to throw her gigantic pregnant body down a flight of stairs. I still didn't give a shit. As for the woman formerly known as Gretchen Mol, she wouldn't be sympathetic if she was falling from the World Trade Center.

It doesn't help that at least twenty percent of each episode of Boardwalk Empire is devoted to making sure we know what racist and sexist bastards everyone in this time period was. Granted, no one on the show is quite as unsympathetic or unrepentantly sexist as the fat guy on Mike & Molly, but they all are generally disgusted by members of other ethnic groups. You'd need a scorecard to really remember who is Italian, who is Irish, and who just eats a lot of pasta or potatoes. Usually you know if someone's black, although that is mostly because only one black character, Chalky, is permitted emotions slightly more complex than indignation or anger.

Actually, Chalky has been permitted to have scenes with other actors of color this season. He saw some black guys in prison and pretended he could read, wasn't that a hoot? In last night's episode, he freaked out on his family because his daughter ("Princess", smh) brought home an educated black man who was interested in medicine. It was unclear whether Chalky was upset because of the exorbitant cost of malpractice insurance, or if he was just really drunk on Nucky Thompson's watered-down whiskey.

In either case, he went from loving father and husband to wanton degenerate in about forty-five minutes, which would be uniquely captivating if every other father on the show wasn't also a total fucking shitface.

Even if you can't care about Boardwalk Empire's characters, you should be able to at least get a little turned on. What passes for sex on Boardwalk Empire is a cartoonish imitation of eroticism, designed to repel us from liking any of the people involved in it. Even the innocent sight of a naked breast is fed through a black cage of sin, or offered and then retracted like the promises Nucky makes to his maids.

The central couple of Nucky and Margaret is by all appearances completely chaste. Michael Shannon's prohibition agent won't have sex with either his wife or his pregnant mistress, Chalky White isn't even permitted to touch his lovely paramour, Jimmy Darmody gets the occasional hug from his common law wife, Arnold Weinstein was apparently a closeted homosexual, and Meyer Lansky was 13 years old with a smoothed over bump where his cock would normally be. As it mocks the prudish prohibition of alcohol openly, Boardwalk Empire embarks on a subtler crusade against the enjoyment of sex.

Little known fact: "Rounders" came out in 1963

One of the main reasons we look back at history is to find those people who wanted to achieve something beyond their own time. No one on Boardwalk Empire wants to do anything great. They're all super satisfied with the inventions of the early 20th century. When they talk on the telephone they stick out their elongated pinkie fingers in the air; when they ride around in a motorcoach they sniff its filthy exhaust as if it were an opiate. They don't want do anything. Remind you of anybody?

I'm willing to witness the shady backstage dealings of some not very imaginative or interesting people if in the end they either get their just deserts by paying for their sins, or come out magnificently scot-free despite their foibles. History real history ruins this possibility. For christ's sake, I already know the date of Nucky Thompson's death, and I have no chance of unknowing it. For the purposes of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky is as immortal as a fucking Highlander.

With that said, there's a part of me that loves how different Boardwalk Empire is from the rest of television. Granted, it's not exactly an imaginative difference, but you can appreciate all that must go into it like eating an elaborately prepared meal that tastes no better than the drive-thru at Burger King. It is what makes the lack of satisfaction that could come from these characters, from this place and time, all the more frustrating.

awesome shawl there Margaret

Some people go their entire lives without admitting an essential truth: they are desperately seeking someone to admire. I too succumb to this fundamental human urge from time to time (until I find a very tall & wide mirror). When I attempt to worship a person, they end up cheating on their wife, or starting a federal campaign against obesity, or telling me they respect Ezra Klein, or inadvertently allowing me to learn they subscribe to The Atlantic Monthly, perhaps when I drop a deuce in their bathroom.

When I was in high school in Wyoming, I idealized a certain woman, call her Evelyn. Every gesture she made was like the wave of a wand; our conversations were ebullient displays of equanimity. Once I came no orgasm, simply a discrete ejaculation in my pleated khakis when Evelyn hugged me after I'd explained the Pythagorean theorem. Nothing could ever be the same after that. Eventually, she started dating a guy whose penis resembled the Washington Monument in both proportions and color.

Evelyn was a shitty person but potentially a great character on Boardwalk Empire. In last night's episode, Jimmy Darmody's wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino) painted his disfigured bodyguard and chaffeur Richard Harrow. He took off the half-mask that covers the wounds he obtained in the Great War. He tells her a very moving story about how, after his twin sister Emily cared for his wounds, he became unable to love her as he did before. It is a vaguely threatening fable about how knowing everything about someone is tantamount to destroying them.

Captivated by how he integrates savagery and vulnerability in one person, Angela sketches him as best she is able. Before the final product is revealed to us, Angela seems the exception to the rule: she alone aspires to something ineffable, something immortal and everlasting, beyond time. Then, with a start, we see Richard Harrow as she has depicted him. It is the image of a man, and nothing more.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States. He last wrote in these pages about Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Through the Dirt and the Gravel" - We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)

"Picture of Health" - We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)

"Hard to Remember" - We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)