Ellen Gray: 'Boardwalk Empire' treads water as new season begins

Posted: September 14, 2012

* BOARDWALK EMPIRE. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

NUCKY THOMPSON may be having more trouble getting over Jimmy Darmody than I am.

As HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" enters its third season Sunday, it's the very eve of 1923, and Nucky (Steve Buscemi) is carrying a lot more baggage than he'd started out with at the dawn of Prohibition three years earlier.

His once hopeful romance with Irish widow Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) has degenerated into a sham of a marriage.

No longer the "half a gangster" his surrogate son Jimmy (Michael Pitt) once told him he couldn't be, he's nevertheless haunted by the act that sealed that deal.

And he has a new thorn in his side: one Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a Sicilian with a hair-trigger temper who's all gangster.

"Boardwalk Empire" is one of those shows that was never meant for a happy ending (unless your idea of perfect happiness involves a lot of shooting). Even if Buscemi weren't television's least likely leading man, he'd still be playing a character whose trajectory arcs toward tragedy.

Still, I miss the Nucky who seemed to delight in his own hypocrisy, paying lip service to temperance but plotting to make Atlantic City the liquor capital of the Eastern seaboard.

In the four episodes I've seen so far, that Nucky seems as dead as Jimmy. In his place: a dour and increasingly ruthless figure whose longing for some kind of domestic happiness has a new, less interesting focus than Margaret.

Margaret herself has found some new interests as she parlays the respectability conveyed by her marriage to Nucky in new directions. She's as ruthless in her own way as her husband, but she, at least, still believes she's doing some good.

Though I sense the show is treading water a bit as Prohibition drags on and the operations of the black market become increasingly contentious, there's still plenty to see on the "Boardwalk," thanks to the show's secondary characters.

We've lost Jimmy, but we still have his mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol), who's moved into a new line of work while keeping a close eye on her grandson.

Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is still in and out of the picture, and there's a story line involving his young son, who's deaf.

And, of course, there's fugitive fed Nelson Van Alden, (Michael Shannon), whose attempts to start over in the Midwest as a door-to-door salesman provide some welcome comic relief.

Everybody's a Critic

One of the high points of my fall season occurred Wednesday, as the Daily News welcomed 20 readers to our new, 801 Market St. newsroom for the annual Everybody's a Critic TV screening.

You'll be reading excerpts from some of their reviews, along with my own, starting next week, but for now, I'd just like to thank this year's panel, our largest ever:

Yvonne Pendleton, Logan; Kameron Cerrato, South Philadelphia; Mark Myers, Pennsport; Howard White, North Philadelphia; Valerie M. Tyson, Logan; Laura Rhoads, Haddonfield, N.J.; Mike Eisworth, Graduate Hospital; Deborah Ervin, Olney; George Schreuder, South Philadelphia; Lorraine Peden, Northwest Philadelphia; Leonard Sutton Jr., Upper Darby; Lisa Y. Andrews, Overbrook Park; Tanaya Matthews, West Philadelphia; Danny Bauder, Holme Circle; Rich Urbani, Bella Vista; Ed Steinberg, Wynnewood; Bart Everts, Rittenhouse Square; Marcia Pruett, Darby; Terrell J. Aiken, North Philadelphia; and Nefertiti Carney, Brewerytown.

Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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