26 November 2011

Boardwalk Empire and Czas Honoru....

As I mentioned two days ago, besides trying to stay on Walking Dead I have also followed two other shows at the same time. The Polish WW2 resistance fighter drama Czas Honoru previously given a positive review for the first 3 season here on the blog - and Boardwalk Empire season 2.

Czas Honoru season 4
Saw the last episode a couple of days ago, and this whole season (which I had looked forward to after 3 pretty good seasons), has been awful. It has been forced to live with a cut budget, just like Walking Dead, and it really shows. While I really like and recommend the show for the first 3 seasons this 4th season was just bland and went nowhere. In retrospect, the 3rd season ended perfectly and the series could just as well have ended there. Most of the bad guys were killed, damsels in distress had been saved, plotlines tied together wonderfully, traitors killed and the show went out with a bang during the last scenes.

The problems with the 4th season are mainly connected to two things. The apparent lack of strong antagonists and the focus on everything and everyone but the resistance guys and their adventures.

The only bad guy returning in the 4th season is the brilliant Gestapo officer Lars Rainer, both the character and the actor playing him is doing a wonderful job and ironically he ends up being pretty much the only "human" character with a palette of emotions, moods, facial expressions and everything else that makes a character come to life and remain interesting. Everyone else looks just bored and has very little to do this season.

But the plot this time around almost turns the show into CSI: Occupied Warsaw. German officers are found murdered in obscure locations and Rainer and his Gestapo buddy start to unravel a plot about the SS plundering gold and killing fellow Germans to cover their tracks hoping to blame the murders on the Polish resistance. Ok pretty interesting but this makes up the main of the plot for so long (while being spread so thin) that it starts to be confusing as to who the main characters really are. The other major plotpoint are the V2 rockets being tested by the Germans nearby so the resistance have to infiltrate their research facility and take pictures of the rockets and blueprints so they can send them to London. This particular plot centers around a completely new character so again the main cast are pretty much left in the background.

Those two plots could have been pretty good if handled correctly. However there is an awful lot pointless romance BS that acts as filler, characters sitting around and smoking while brooding so much that it becomes hilarious - especially when the resistance fighters keep meeting in some garage as if they wanted to make every scene a homage to Reservoir Dogs. The girlfriend of one of the resistance fighters gets captured and carried away for like the 15th time making her more worthless and prone to abduction than princess Toadstool and Mary Jane from Spiderman combined together. And the effects and fights are very weak and embarrassing even for a low budget this time around.

But what really kills this season is the lack of everything that made the previous 3 seasons interesting. No cool "masterplan" made up by the resistance that formed the core of the season. No interesting locations like the hidden document forgery, the Warsaw ghetto or any particularly interesting locations at all. No good dynamic between the included bad guys which made the previous shows so good, you no longer get memorable scenes between the Abwehr led by Martin Halbe and the Gestapo led by Lars Rainer and their maneuverings to try to outwith each other. There is also no good dynamic between the good guys and the bad guys.

There are no interesting storylines like in previous seasons, like the building of a radio to get London broadcasts with hidden messages, no real feeling about the threat of the infiltrating communist cells etc.

The show will run a 5th and last season I've heard. I won't be watching it. What was a pretty damn good adventure/drama show has been ruined. It went from being something like a Polish version of the best episodes of Young Indiana Jones series to becoming a bland and weak soapopera quality show set during WW2. The few good things left in this show are simply not enough to save it. Even the poster for the 4th season looks more like a soapopera than anything else. So if you liked the first 3 seasons, I strongly advice on skipping this one.


Boardwalk Empire
Where to begin. If I had to compare this show to something, it would be the reality tv show Big Brother. And not the parts they show on TV, but the 23 hours cut away, the leftovers that only die hard voyeurs are interested in seeing so they pay some sort of fee to get a ”backstage pass” and watch the mundane lives of those reality tv prisoners 24/7. Watch as they sit around and smoke, make food, take a dump or making some crazy shit out of despair over their locked up situation.

But let’s start with how the show started. AWESOME! The pilot episode was so damn promising. A prohibition era show, gangsters, wheeling’s and dealings, false and corrupt politicians. Lots of interesting character drama, decision making, plans and goals and even a bit of action that felt like stuff from one of my favorite gangster movies – Millers Crossing.
The pilot is followed by a lull. “OK, well maybe this will be a buildup towards something”.

Nucky Thompson meets people and talks to them. Nucky Thompson pays some dude to run for office. Nucky Thompson meets a ladyfriend and starts sleeping with her. Nucky Thompson is annoyed because a birthday party is almost ruined because of dirty silverware. Nucky Thompson is going fucking nowhere, that’s alright, him being a historical character and all there are probably some restrictions due to “timeline issues” if HBO wants him to be accurately portrayed. But what about the rest of the cast?

Second main character Jimmy. Jimmy has a cool backstory, Jimmy is an awful character in season 1 but gets a little better in season 2. Jimmy is married to a tramp who enjoys lesbian adventures, Jimmy talks to Nucky Thompson about doing something. Jimmy is sent to Chicago to talk with more people. Jimmy comes back to Atlantic City and tells Nucky what those in Chicago told him. Jimmy has a creepy mother that looks young enough to be his sister. Jimmy’s dad is a pedophile.

Third main character. Margaret Schroeder. Margaret is abused at home. Margaret meets Nucky Thompson. Margaret starts working in a store owned by Nucky Thompson. Margarets husband gets killed indirectly by Nucky Thompson, upon which a relationship is formed and she moves in with Nucky Thompson so that he can enjoy the family life he always wanted (?). It doesn’t help that the actress playing Margaret looks as if she needs to take a shit badly – like right NOW – either in every scene.

The very first season of Boardwalk Empire was an somewhat interesting affair. Small things happened, that led to larger things. But events were spread so thinly that it made the show appear to be about nothing. It is hard to remain interested when you get a very slow buildup without any end in sight – and true enough the season finale was underwhelming and that’s being generous.

The scenery looks fantastic, they have really invested a lot of money into the sets, clothes and everything that makes the show look and feel like a realistic depiction of the 1920’s when showing both the lavish rich people homes and the poor people’s shacks. The show has some fantastic characters in it, those being mainly:

Rothstein: He does nothing, and when he talks he says nothing. Yet he has enough charisma to keep you interested in every scene he’s in. There was one episode during season 2 that was a “classic Rothstein”, when Nucky asks what to do and Rothstein replies “Do nothing, I’m a gambler, sometimes I place a lot of bets , sometimes I wait and hoard my resources until a better occasion comes along”. Even Nucky Thompsons facial expression went “what the fuck are you talking about?”, and still somehow silly stuff like that that would sound like crap from anyone else was still interesting and full of character when it came from Rothstein.

Al Capone: Another great character, played by a great actor. The transformation from the “prankster” to the “man” during season 1 was fantastic. He still retains his impulsive outbursts and is always great to watch.

Eli Thompson: Treated like dirt by his brother, and perhaps not being the brightest schemer, he always tries to find his own place in the world. Doing the dirtyjobs for his superiors he is one of those conflicted characters that you want to see more of and learn more about.

Richard Harrow: In my opinion the BEST character in the whole show. His backstory is superb, his character is deeply disturbed by the experiences of World War 1, having his face blown off and being a pariah due to wearing that scary looking mask that covers the hole in his face.  We know more about this single character than pretty much anyone except Nucky Thompson.  And he’s in the show for like 3 minutes per episode. In those 3 minutes he has your full attention  through a fantastic acting performance. I could watch an entire show just about Richard Harrow, I wish he was in the show more. The best scenes of season 1 and season 2 have so far included Richard Harrow. Under that calm vulnerable facade lurks a raging psychopath with family values and messed up interpretations of what people are saying.

Mickey Doyle: That “joker” character that no one takes seriously, constantly downplaying himself with that hilarious stupid laughter is again played very well and you can sense that there is more to him than just that posing idiot, glimpses of his real self shown in brief scenes behind the backs of other characters.

And the list could go on with another half a dozen characters or more. However, the show is in the end not living up to, by a longshot, the first episode which was supposed to set the mood for the series. This show lacks good pacing. For every interesting moment, you are drowned in seemingly pointless scenes of people talking about doing some stuff. But there is also something else, because with great characters like this show has – it could run on “fumes” alone. For instance, the show Deadwood which I absolutely loved was often just people talking.  So why is Boardwalk Empire dragging?

Here’s the core of what I think is the problem. Too many scenes that don’t connect to the plot established in the pilot episode. In the end this is a prohibition era show with gangsters and lots of corruption. You can of course, and should, include scenes of this “world” to make it real and believable. Show stuff outside of the main plot to make it all seem come to life and give a deeper understanding of how it was back then. What we don’t need is to spend 30 minutes an episode on Nucky Thompsons domestic situation, Margaret Schroeders kids or why she has been abandoned by her Irish family. That is irrelevant. Do I want to see that ugly, loud mouth, talentless hack of an exhibitionist actress playing that stupid slutty character "Lucy" who gets knocked up by Van Alden - and have scenes of importance where plot progress is made cut away to her apartment where she is having trouble sitting straight because of her condition?
Van Alden is also wasted in this episode on pointless filler scenes that only make him appear more ridiculous and a caricature than before.

And also, Steve Buscemi is just way too weak and uncharismatic to carry a believable portrayal of Nucky Thompson. And I love Steve Buscemi in all his wonderful eccentric weirdness that he is able to channel into his roles, from Con Air, Sopranos, Ghost World – even Billy Madison! But he is not a “leader”, he carries zero authority. When he says something and wants to be taken seriously he makes this face, that at his age just makes him look like Gollum.

So after seing the finale of season 1 I gave up on the show. I was coaxed into watching the second season (and still am) by a friend who said it was a “huge improvement”. Well he was full of shit, as it is still the exactly same thing as season 1. Long stretches of nothing, great characters, and a select few good scenes that makes you hope this show till finally get back to its roots in pace and story with the pilot episode.

I can count the interesting stuff that has transpired during season 2 so far on the fingers of my left hand.

1) Richard Harrow having a deathwish out in the woods.
2) Nucky Thompson almost getting shot in the face.
3) The deal made to trade Thompson guns for Irish Whiskey with the IRA
4) Jimmy making friends but being too stupid to keep them.
5) The introduction of the character Manny “Munia” Horrowitz.

And that’s it. Now let’s see what else happened this season so far.

1) Jimmy’s wife started a new lesbian adventure.
2) Van Alden walks around troubled by his bastard child that made his wife flee in horror.
3) There is a new investigation being made on Nucky , it is going nowhere.
4) Margaret has been rejected by her Irish family.
5) One of Margaret’s kids now has Polio.
6) The KKK is made up of a bunch of old farts.
7) The Commodore had a seizure and is now unable to speak, but able to drool.
8) Jimmy’s mom is showing incest tendencies.
9) Nucky got himself a new Irish handyman to replace Jimmy.
10) 24 deals have been made by an equal amount of people about who will ship booze to where and for what payment without actually delivering a single fucking bottle.

The good characters alone can’t save this show if there isn’t more of an immediate plot. So far the writers seem to think of the show as a 20 season deal with all story arcs just continuing through them all with pretty much zero payoff in single episodes or single seasons alone. Give us something in reward for our invested time, show something that matters right now. It is all a big long setup with no end in sight. And when the shows actually resolves a storyline, it makes little or no impact and just appears to have been all for nothing.

That’s what I think. Having invested time in the current 9 episodes of season 2 I will probably watch the rest as well. But I won’t be coaxed into watching a 3rd season. The show is not necessarily bad, like Walking Dead, and I can fully understand people liking this show a lot just the way it is. It’s not dogshit. I just think it is a lot of wasted potential.

4 comments:

  1. To be fair, Jimmy's mom was always showing incestuous tendencies, right from the first couple of episodes. I agree about harrow's character - and you left off his interest in Jimmy's wife.

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  2. I don't know if Harrows interest in Jimmy's wife in particular derives from him living closely with that particular family or from her as a person. I guess Harrow may misinterpret things in his own crazy way thinking there is some mutual interest. I think it is more about him being protective about her and wanting to maintain that "proxy family" by keeping her and Jimmy together.

    But I believe that Harrow, deep down, just wants to have a family of his own but is being realistic about that probably not happening so he clings to Jimmy's family instead.

    I also read something interesting about the upcoming episode, which if true would make Harrows reaction to the turn of events highly interesting.

    Actually the last episode of season 2 was the best so far. Lots of stuff happened. And I was just about to give up on the Irish not wanting to buy Nucky's guns.

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  3. You should try to watch next season. Much better from the fourth, hard to compare them. Action is set after war, the communists become main antagonists, new characters - delightfully ambigous or gruesome- appear. Well, I have to admit it has one incredibly stupid death, but it's still great. In my opinion the setting change gives series new dynamics. Just my opinion, but I think you should try to give it a chance..

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    Replies
    1. Ach, and of course Rainer stays in the game ;)

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