BOARDWALK EMPIRE: SEASON 4 RETROSPECTIVE

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Richard: I will see you in 3 days.
Julia: Or I will hunt you down and drag you to Wisconsin.
Richard: I promise.

Richard Harrow was a quiet, sad, internal, in many ways broken man when he returned home from the Great War. Broken not only emotionally, but physically as well. Missing half his face, unable to speak with any great conviction, and always concerned of frightening those around him. When he met Jimmy Darmody, he began to find his place in the world again, but it was never without difficulty. Then, when his only friend in the world was killed, we had to wonder, what is next for Richard?

Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire saw Richard Harrow in some very dark and lonely places, including an entire, beautiful episode showing us Richard’s isolation and his thoughts of suicide. But his life found a purpose as the season played out, first, as caretaker and father figure to Jimmy’s son, Tommy, then as a love interest to the daughter of a fellow war vet, Julia. But the finale of season 3 gives us Richard at perhaps his very darkest. In order to protect and rescue Tommy, Richard goes on an amazing, nearly unbelievable killing spree, which shatters him to his very core. He delivers Tommy to Julia, getting him away from his monster of a grandmother, but being more broken than ever before, he leaves. He leaves Atlantic City, he leaves Julia, and he leaves Tommy.

From his introduction in season 1, Jack Huston’s performance as Richard Harrow quickly showed itself to be one of the best of Boardwalk Empires truly special ensemble, and even one of the very best on all of TV. In fact, Richard Harrow likely was the character that I looked forward to spending time with most each year (yes, including Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Jesse Pinkman, Kenny Powers, Raylan Givens, Boyd Crowder and the enter Gallagher family). Huston’s performance was always so small, but ever powerful. He was never given a ton of screen time, but his screen presence more than made up for it. His quiet determination and devotion to his best friend’s son was truly touching, and Richard died at the close of season 4 of Boardwalk Empire to again protect Tommy.

That being said, I suppose if I want to call this post a season 4 “retrospective,” I should do something other than talk about 1 character. Here’s the thing about Boardwalk Empire though: it remains one of the most beautiful, complicated, well written, marvelously acted, and criminally under watched shows on TV. My guess is that people attempt to ignore this show because they can’t “buy” Steve Buscemi in a leading role, but that’s ridiculous. Yes, Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson is the “center” of this show, but it is an ensemble in the same vein as many of the great ensembles of this Golden Age of TV, such as LOST, The West Wing or Mad Men.

As each season that came before it did, season 4 started slowly, with many seemingly disconnected stories, ranging from Wisconsin to NYC to Chicago to Atlantic City to Florida. But as always, by the time the season came to a close, each story beautifully intersected with the other. The fact that people still try to doubt the brilliance of Boardwalk astounds me, but moreso than that, the fact that it is so overlooked, even by people who watch good TV, is the true disappointment for me.

In a season defined by some intense and heart wrenching deaths (Agent Knox, Chalk’s daughter and obviously Richard), the most important deaths going forward are likely the one’s that didn’t happen. That neither Dr. Narcisse or Chalky White died in this finale was not only surprising, but also very exciting for the story going forward. The addition of Dr. Narcisse (played magnificently by the great Jeffrey Wright) was a welcome sight for many reasons. It’s not only good for the show because it added one more incredible performer to this ensemble. It was also fascinating for what it added in terms of the race discussion of Boardwalk Empire. Terrence Winter showed us over the previous 3 seasons how Chalky dealt with the white community, specifically Nucky, but this year, we got a chance to see him deal with internal race relations with Dr. Narcisse. And whatever anyone may think of Chalky (that he’s a criminal, a bootlegger, a murderer), he has always had the interests of his family, and his community at the forefront. The same cannot be said of Dr. Narcisse. Though we are presented with a man who claims to be a spokesman for his community, by the end of the season, we see that he is nothing more than a pimp and a peddler, and he’s not half the man that Chalky White is.

Going forward without Richard is a sad proposition for me, as I said, he was probably my favorite character on all of TV, but his death came at the right time for the show. And this is a show, unlike many (I’m looking at you Sons of Anarchy), that is always honest about it’s characters, and honest to its story. If the story calls for a character to die, no matter how painful it might be, the show makes that move. I believe Boardwalk is in as strong a position as ever, and I can’t wait for next September and season 5.

Season grade: 9.5/10

–CJ

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What to Watch: September 2013

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Each month here on YBTV, I am going to try to provide a list of things to watch out for (be it premieres, notable episodes, special events, whatever) in the month ahead. Now, September is obviously a very busy month because of the upcoming beginning of the Fall TV season, so this list is going to be tougher to narrow down to 10 than others (I also plan on writing up a list of the new shows I’m looking forward to in the next week or 2), but alas, I shall try. Counting down from 10 to 1, here we go:

10. Master’s of Sex (Showtime, Sunday, September 29 at 9 PM) — Showtime and I don’t necessarily have the greatest track record (see Homeland and Ray Donavan), but that is not to say they get everything wrong. Shameless is without a doubt one of my favorite shows, and like it’s lead Emmy Rossum, I expect much out of Lizzy Caplan here. But, she doesn’t have to do it all alone, throw in some Michael Sheen, and a intriguing story, and we hopefully have the makings of a solid show.

9. Parks and Recreation (NBC, Thursday, September 26 at 7 PM) — Though season 5 may not have ended on the high note we’ve come to expect for this show (it’s tough writing multiple finales in the same season, and the Ben/Leslie wedding episode was a perfect finale), that does not take away for the excitement of another year back in the Pawnee Parks and Rec department with these people who we love to watch.

8. S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, Tuesday, September 24 at 7 PM) — How in the world is Agent Coulson still alive? That’s really all I want to know. Also, it’s Wheedon. So people like me are contractually obligated to watch (how I miss thee Firefly).

7. The 65th Annual Primetime Television Emmy Awards (CBS, Sunday, September 22 at 7 PM) — See, CBS made my list this month! Is this the year that Jon Hamm finally breaks through and wins that elusive Emmy?!?! No, probably not. But it’s possible. Season 5A of Breaking Bad was not as strong as the previous seasons with which Bryan Cranston has won and beat Mr. Hamm.

6. New Girl (FOX, Tuesday, September 17 at 8 PM) — Season 2 of New Girl was definitely not as popular ratings wise, but the show took a significant step forward creatively. The expansion of the focus of the show from Jess, to Jess, Nick and Schmidt (and Wintson, occasionally) was such a strong move for the show. It makes it a must watch on a weekly basis.

5. Sons of Anarchy (FX, Tuesday, September 10 at 9 PM) — I have a troubled history with this particular FX show. That history is mostly due to the occasionally frustrating writing decisions of Kurt Sutter and Co. (i.e., making implausible leaps of reality just because you enjoy working with your real life wife or you like the performance of Ron Pearlman) that are so often an annoyance with this show. But, the always solid performances of Charlie Hunnam, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates and Theo Rossi have kept me coming back season after season.

4. The League (FXX, Wednesday, September 4 at 930 PM) — Is there anything insightful to actually say about The League? I don’t think there is. I just enjoy watching the people on this show say and do really mean things to one another while discussing their fantasy football league (we also really need to do something about their 8 team league, that’s a joke).

3. Luther (BBC America, Tuesday, September 3 through Friday, September 6) — This 4 part series is going to run over 4 consecutive nights this week, which is just fine by me. Luther (like Sherlock) is best in small doses. But, here is all you really need to know is: Idris Elba. Ruth Wilson. John Luther. Alice Morgan.  The end.

2. Boardwalk Empire (HBO, Sunday, September 8 at  8 PM) — The season 4 premiere brings us some new additions which have had me excited since I heard the rumors. I’m a crazy big fan of the completely and totally underrated Jeffrey Wright, and always enjoy Ron Livingston (just saw him in “Drinking Buddies,” where he was excellent). For an HBO show with lots of “prestige” behind it (Scorcese as an exec producer and brought by a team from The Sopranos), this has always been an under watched and under appreciated show for HBO.  I will never understand why. It could be the slow burn of the first half of each season, but each and every time, it pays off so magically with some of the best closing stretches of episodes on TV. More people should watch and love this show.

1. Breaking Bad series finale (AMC, Sunday, September 29 at 8 PM) — This blog is named after Breaking Bad, and so far pretty much all we have been talking about is Breaking Bad. So I don’t feel like I need to explain how exciting this is for LJ and myself. It’s the series finale of one of the 5 or 6 greatest shows in television history. It needs to be watched and dissected by all.

-CJ