This weekend, HBO will premiere the most expensive drama series ever made, the 1920s gangland epic "Boardwalk Empire." The stature of those behind the cameras — the show was created by "Sopranos" writer Terence Winter, with director Martin Scorsese helming the first episode — is almost as impressive as those in front, including Steve Buscemi, indie film star Michael Pitt, and Michael K. Williams (better known as Omar from HBO's "The Wire"). Although HBO still boasts audience favorites like "True Blood" and "Entourage," it currently lacks a critical hit to compete with AMC's multi-award-winning "Mad Men." Could "Boardwalk Empire" put it back on top? (Watch a "Boardwalk Empire" promo)
HBO needs a hit... and this is it: HBO is desperate for a show to restore it to its "Sopranos-era halcyon days," says Joshua Alston at Newsweek. Fortunately it has one, in a series that "combines the criminal voyeurism of its former flagship with the persnickety period detail" of "Mad Men." In fact, "Boardwalk Empire" is so good it could "destroy the prestige lines between film and series television once and for all."
"Married to the Mob"
Let's hope its quality prevails against the inevitable backlash: The show is "unabashedly ambitious, large in scope and lavish in set," says Sara Vilkomerson at The New York Observer. But all those "collective award-show wins and expectations" could do it more harm than good. An "early backlash" could deal the show a tough blow, were it not for one thing: "It's really, really good."
"Why fight the hype? 'Boardwalk' blows me away"
Awards juries may be more impressed than viewers: Although there's a "growing host of homes" on TV for great shows, says Robert Bianco at USA Today, no-one but HBO could have made "Boardwalk Empire." As "comically ostentatious" as it is "gorgeous and elaborate," the show has the potential to "re-establish HBO as a series Emmy contender, which is what it was built to do." However, it's "less clear that it's a show viewers will embrace."
"HBO builds a mighty, brutal 'Boardwalk Empire'"
This article was originally published on September 10, and updated on September 17