We’re Breaking Up With ‘Boardwalk Empire’

You watch too much TV. No, you do. So do I. We all follow too many series and overload our DVRs to the point where we have to spend Sunday afternoons clearing them out like they’re our junk drawer. And there are new shows premiering all the time! Some of them worth a look—okay, most of them aren’t, but SOME. But we can’t just keep piling on like this. We’ve gotta start weeding shows out. On the plus side, if you’re a wonky sort, a good TV purge is often a great way to examine what you’re looking for in your entertainment. What you value. So each week here at BlackBook, we’re going to tell you what show you should be giving up on. It won’t be easy, but it has to be done. This week, we’re dumping Boardwalk Empire.

Getting Dumped: Boardwalk Empire

What’d They Do This Time? This past Sunday was the third season premiere of the most acclaimed cable drama you ever forgot was still on. It wasn’t a terrible episode. It’s not a terrible show. If we waited for shows to become straight-up terrible, we’d never stop watching ANYTHING. The problem with Boardwalk Empire is that it feels like an accumulation of all the things HBO dramas have taught us we SHOULD value in a TV show, rather than letting us discover something new and exciting. Even the praise you hear for Boardwalk Empire is so obligatory. It’s a great show because great shows have dark, flawed, possibly unredeemable lead characters whose amorality reflect an America with broken values. It’s a great show because great shows don’t shy away from the violent underpinnings of our society. It’s a great show because great shows makes their audience work to keep up with dozens of characters, each with their own stories and motivations that may or may not ever prove to be important. All these things CAN be (and have been) ingredients in great shows, but behaving like a great show would isn’t nearly the whole ballgame.

Sunday’s episode introduced a character named Gyp Rosetti, played by Bobby Cannavale, who’s your classic HBO hotheaded gangster who takes offense at the slightest provocation and is always eager to bash some guy’s head in. We’ve seen dozens of these guys, on The Sopranos, on Deadwood, probably The Mind of the Married Man at one point. Hell, there are at least three major characters like this on Boardwalk Empire already! It’s exhausting.

Nothing about the show feels exciting or fresh or fun, a problem that came into stark (pardon the pun) relief with the premiere of Game of Thrones, which did all those great-show HBO things but also managed to get viewers actually excited. Nucky’s dealing and killing and making the moves he needs to make to become a Prohibition kingpin—hey, way to get that Justice Department stooge in your pocket!—meanwhile, in Westeros, there’s beheadings and dragons and androgynous knights!

Anything Else? Okay: that metaphor of the lady biplane pilot seeking to fly freely over the continental United States, representing Margaret’s latent desires to be a free and independent woman? A little much. Like cake frosting applied with a shovel.

What We’ll Miss: Thick metaphors aside, Kelly MacDonald really is killing it as Margaret. This IS a character type we haven’t grown sick of: the compromising woman caught between her morals and success. Also: sad Richard Harrow with the half-face. You hang in there, buddy.

What We’ll Have More Time For: Time-shifting means that we don’t have to worry so much about time-slot competition anymore, but if you want to banter on Twitter while watching a show—and eeeeeverybody does that now, so let’s all stop acting offended by it—you’ve gotta watch it pretty close to live, so giving up Boardwalk Empire means more time at 9pm to cheer on Madeline Stowe’s return from the dead on Revenge, or maybe see how Kalinda deals with her ex-husband’s return on The Good Wife. No more waiting multiple seasons for Nucky to purchase highway land! You’re free!

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