TV review: “Boardwalk Empire”: Please make Nucky more compelling

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From the September 5, 2013 edition

“Boardwalk Empire” is one of the best dramas on television. It’s expertly written, directed and acted while featuring costume and set designbetter than “Mad Men.” With that said, there’s one problem: Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi).

Now, Buscemi is strong in his role and the character is appealing, aptly serv as the driving force. It’s just that Nucky is far from the most interesting character.

Since “Boardwalk Empire” is the (mostly accurate) historical tale of American organized crime during prohibition, many viewers already know the fates of Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza). And even though Nucky (based onthe actualNucky Johnson) is ostensibly a historical figure, his tale is much lesser known.

Therefore, Nucky’s storyline and perspective should not only be the entry into this expansive universe, but alsocompelling;a protagonist invest in. Unfortunately I — and I can’t be the only one — am almost always drawn to periphery characters.

Even during last season, which was heavily constructed around Nuckyhis emotions and struggles/successes, I was more interested the villainous Gyp Rosetti (fantastically played by Bobby Cannavale) and Richard Harrow (even more fantastically played by Jack Huston).

Don’t get me wrong, I like Nucky. I just want more to draw me in, and unfortunately that hasn’t happened so far in Season 4. Fortunately Richard Harrow and especially Capone (plus a few others) have strongnarratives.

Fresh off his Rambo-ing of Rosetti’s henchmen, Richard moves away from Atlantic City. He’s still struggling to find his place in this world, and it’s still heartbreaking.

Capone is becoming a major cog in “Boardwalk Empire” and watching his evolution into a hard-boiled gangster is enthralling. It’s made even better by adding Capone’s brothers Frank (Morgan Spector) and Ralph (Domenick Lombardozzi),plus Van Alden (Michael Shannon) to the mix.

I’ve learned my lesson about doubting this show’s slow starts — again leisurely doling out plot in these first five episodes — as its season conclusions are gripping. What I haven’t learned is to care a lot about Nucky. With a story this big, I guess it doesn’t matter.