Steve Buscemi lays down the law.
By Colin Covert
HBO has posted the first teaser for its upcoming series "Boardwalk Empire," a fact-based Prohibition gangster saga with an unusually fine pedigree. Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese directed the hourlong first episode in feature film style, with a reported two month shooting schedule and $50 million budget. That's massive for the small screen -- HBO's most expensive show ever. But from the spectacular look of the trailer, with impeccable period detail and hundreds of extras, every nickel is well spent.
"Boardwalk Empire" is set in Atlantic City in the 1920s, when the gem of the Jersey shore was as famous for brothels, bloodshed and bootleggers as Salt Water Taffy. It follows the career of real-life Republican political boss and racketeer Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (Steve Buscemi), renamed Thompson for the series. Johnson, a flamboyant crook, ruled over the town for three decades, at one point hosting a national convention for bootleggers at the resort.
The series, written by Terence Winter (multiple Emmy-winner for his work on "The Sopranos"), is chockablock with big-screen talent. The ensemble includes Gretchen Mol as a showgirl, Michael Shannon as a Prohibition agent, Michael Pitt as an ambitious thug, Dabney Coleman as a veteran power broker, and Kelly Macdonald ("No Country for Old Men"). "A Serious Man's" everyschmuck Michael Stuhlbarg plays Jewish mob kingpin Arnold Rothstein, who reputedly fixed the 1919 World Series. Stephen Graham, Baby Face Nelson in Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," switches fedoras to portray Al Capone.
The creators are working closely with historians to get the look and feel of the era just right, down to the blood-red carnations in Nucky's lapel. The pilot opens the series on Jan. 16, 1920, the day Prohibition took effect, as Nucky preaches to the Women’s Temperance League while also raising a toast the 18th Amendment, his ticket to the lucrative world of crime and corruption.
It's unclear whether Scorsese, the series' executive producer, will direct additional chapters. The first season of 12 episodes runs through the presidential election on Nov. 2, 1920. If the series runs for multiple seasons, it's likely to extend to the Wall Street crash of 1929.
"Boardwalk Empire" debuts this fall on HBO.