This was one of the pieces of entertainment I was looking forward to the most this year. Scorcese is one of my heroes and I'm a sucker for gangster-fare, especially prohibition era. There is just something less criminal and alluring about what they were doing back then. Even the bad guys had a code, and the only ones that got hurt were other bad guys. They were essentially bootlegging what is found everywhere now. It's not as insidious as heroin, crack or meth.
The show started with a bang, coming out the gates like a thoroughbred - as one would expect from this big budget HBO show directed by Martin Scorcese. It introduced a handful of colorful (and real-life) characters that were all intriguing. It set some high stakes... but then for a few episodes at the beginning didn't deliver on any of that. It seemed like a lot of soul searching and exposition. As if they were trying to work in actual facts, rather than worry about actually being entertaining. Michael Pitt's Jim Darmody spent a lot of time in Chicago with Al Capone, doing nothing (save for one great hit). There was an entire episode with a whore who had her face cut open preceding that hit that was a giant waste of time. The same can be said for the ongoings in Atlantic City with Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. It was dull and boring. The only interesting things going on were seeing Gretchen Mol's hot mom (to Darmody) getting banged by Lucky Luciano, who was supposed to be finding Normady to kill him. I stuck it out, and for good reason. The show is a visual treat, and they although it seems trite to load it with so many facts/factual characters, they do an awesome job of it. But once Darmody gets back to Jersey, things really take off and the show finished extremely strong. I didn't want the season to end and am now really looking forward to season 2.
The standouts of the first season, to me, were Al Capone (Stephen Graham who was also great in Public Enemies as Baby Face Nelson) and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) as the veteran without a face. He is such a bad ass, and the actor who plays him breathes such unique life into him. He is by far the best character on the show. And he's the biggest badass. Everyone is pretty top-notch, from Michael Shannon's prohibition officer to Shea Whigham's sheriff Eli Thompson. I was a Buscemi apologist for a while, saying the show was good enough it didn't matter (there were a few people who were arguing that he was the wrong choice to play a ruthless and cunning politician, who was also a ladies man). They were right. It works, but with the long list of actors they could have cast it is a shame they didn't. Buscemi seems better suited for a lesser politician... That isn't me saying he is bad, he has always given off a weak/weaselly vibe. He's not Tony Soprano, he is his misfit cousin who winds up dead. It works - but a good show could have been great.