Grown-Up Viewing

By Hoggart, Simon | The Spectator, February 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Grown-Up Viewing


Hoggart, Simon, The Spectator


Sky's new channel, Atlantic, kicked off this week with two big shows:

Boardwalk Empire , which is set in 1920 and is about gangsters, and Blue Bloods , which is set in the modern day and is about a family of New York law enforcers. As in all American cop shows, there is a lot of badge-flashing, though for some reason none of the people they flash their badges at ever asks for a closer look.

It would be quite easy to make one from an old credit card and a milk-bottle top, quite good enough to pass in the half-second the average flash takes.

That's a detail.

Boardwalk Empire has been hugely ballyhooed - no wonder, since the first episode was directed by Mar - tin Scorsese for HBO, the American channel that gave us The Sopranos , which was not as good as everyone said, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is so brilliant that although I have a box set I can't watch more than one episode at a time because it would be like eating half a pound of foiegras.

The gangster movie is the American equivalent of our more elderly costume dramas. And it, too, has its own conventions - massacres instead of cotillions, flashy suits instead of tights and ruffs, and characters saying things like: 'ya pay 12 clams for a piece o'cooze worth nuttin' ' (tr: 'even an ill-favoured prostitute will charge £7.74'), rather than, 'Miss Bennet, I would esteem it the highest honour you could visit upon me were you to . . .'

So there is an inevitability about every scene. This is not to say there aren't dazzling set pieces, lovingly and expensively mount - ed. The anti-hero is Enoch 'Nucky' Thomp - son (Steve Buscemi), gangland boss and, in his scant spare time, the esteemed treasurer of Atlantic City. The tawdry horrors of the resort - the display of premature babies and the dwarf boxing - are created with meticulous care. The opening few scenes were gripping: it is the very eve of Prohibi - tion, and Nucky is addressing a hall full of temperance women about the evils of alcohol, making them gasp with an invented story about how his father, having spent everything on booze, killed wharf rats for the family supper. Minutes later he is at a drunk - en midnight party, toasting the tremendous business opportunities the Volstead Act is about to bring.

Or, as someone puts it, 'I will keep Atlantic City as wet as a mermaid's twat. …

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