Thursday, 27 January 2011


Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 1 February, 9pm

It’s here at last – HBO’s much heralded Prohibition drama that will leave most British TV execs feeling they need a drink.
Because when they contemplate commissioning the umpteenth job lot of Midsomer Murders or Silent Witness, Boardwalk Empire will remind them just how good a crime series can be when it has this much talent and ambition behind it.
And of course it had much more cash behind it than any British series – the 90-minute opener, directed by Martin Scorsese, is rumoured to have cost $20-odd million. For that we get a sweeping, epic drama about power, delving into the wild 1920s, the dawn of the modern American gangster, all told with lavish sets, chilling violence and terrific storytelling.
It’s 1920, the eve of Prohibition and Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Treasurer of Atlantic City, is meeting some serious mobsters from New York – Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and a young, trigger-happy thug called Al Capone (British actor Stephen Graham).
While nightclub revellers celebrate the new booze ban by cracking open the champagne, Nucky is pledging to keep the booze flowing. But we soon see that problems are looming for this politician who wants to play with the gangsters.
His protégé and driver, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a veteran of the Great War who wants to get rich in peacetime, teams up with Capone to hijack Nucky’s booze consignment for New York. The heist goes wrong, four men are shot, and Nucky gains an enemy in the menacing Arnold Rothstein.
Nucky, a widower, also encounters Irish immigrant and battered wife Margaret Schroeder (played by another Brit, the Scottish Kelly Macdonald), who at first is timid but as she mingles with the power-brokers and hustlers surrounding Nucky, we sense that she is no fool, and that Nucky is slowly being drawn to her.
It’s a charismatic performance by Buscemi, who won a Golden Globe in January, as did the series for best dramatic series.
Boardwalk Empire, based on a book about Atlantic City’s corrupt past by Nelson Johnson and overseen by Sopranos scriptwriter Terence Winter, brings alive again an astonishing period that was once fashionable in classic movies such as James Cagney’s The Roaring Twenties. But the series is in many ways more vivid – from the ragtime, to the spectacle of boxing dwarves and other mad stunts of the time.
But make no mistake – Broadwalk Empire’s magic is not just down to budget. The Americans, particularly those hired by HBO, just think bigger and produce better television. The series brilliantly weaves true events with the dramas of complex, believable characters.
It’s a wild period. And then, of course, there is Scorsese’s skill at rubbing out dirty rats in brilliant set-piece sequences. Unmissable.

Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 1 February, 10.30pm

The other new crime series helping to launch Sky Atlantic on its first night immediately follows Boardwalk Empire.
Blue Bloods stars Tom Selleck as a New York police commissioner in a series that is part family drama, part cop show. In a rather contrived premise, the Reagans are virtually a multi-generational family police force.
In addition to Frank (Selleck), there’s his father, Henry (Lou Cariou), a former police chief; eldest son and detective Danny (Donnie Wahlberg); daughter Linda (Bridget Moynahan, an assistant DA; and youngest son, Jamie (Will Estes), a Harvard law grad who couldn’t resist joining New York’s finest despite his qualifications. Oh, and Frank’s other son, Joe, was killed in the line of duty.
You can see where this is going. Plenty of opportunities arise for family conflicts and arguments round the dinner table. So, when Danny batters a suspected child kidnapper in the opening episode, sis Linda is on his case because the guy could now go free on a technicality.
Blue Bloods certainly has blue blood in its veins, so that it favours Danny doing what a cop’s gotta do. And though Linda sticks up for the rights of the individual for a while, by the end she and Danny can bond over the news that a suspect is being shipped to Florida – where, happily, they have the death penalty.

The opener is bulging with plot exposition to set up the whole series, so that the first time we see family together they all clunkily introduce themselves and their professions to us and each other. We then get a stream plot cliffhangers in quick succession. Is the widower Frank having an affair? Should Jamie join an undercover operation investigating his brother’s death? And was Joe the victim of police criminality?
Where the HBO-produced Boardwalk Empire is ambitious and exceptional, Blue Bloods (CBS) is standard cop-show fare. Still, filmed on New York’s streets, the show looks sharp, and it’s good to see Selleck back again.

Radio 4, Saturday, 5 February, 2.30pm

Listen out for insolent tones of Philip Marlowe as the first of Radio 4’s Raymond Chandler adaptations, The Big Sleep, hits the air in February. Toby Stephens plays the private eye in Chandler’s classic tale about Marlowe being hired by the rich General Sternwood to deal with a blackmailer. The other plays in this and the next series include: Farewell My Lovely (1940); The High Window (1942); The Lady in the Lake (1943); The Little Sister (1949); The Long Goodbye (1953); and two lesser-known novels, Playback (1958) and Poodle Springs, unfinished at the time of Chandler's death in 1959. The second series completing the Classic Chandler collection will be broadcast in the autumn.

Robin Jarossi is a TV jounalist and editor of

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