A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that HBO's mature period drama focuses on an Atlantic City mob boss during Prohibition, when making alcohol illegal created a booming business in smuggling. So not only do people drink frequently on the series, but much of the story revolves around making, transporting, and selling alcohol as well. The characters are quick to anger and not above-double crossing each other, and there’s plenty of graphic violence when deals go bad (including people getting badly beaten and being shot in the head on screen). They're a rough and dangerous crowd: They smoke, swear constantly, and have sex (sometimes loudly, with full-frontal nudity).
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What's the story?
When Prohibition went into effect in Atlantic City in 1920, it instantly created a huge underground industry. Gangsters got rich -- and sometimes got killed, -- making, smuggling, and selling liquor. And when there’s illegal money to be made, there are plenty of people who will do just about anything to make a quick buck. This is the BOARDWALK EMPIRE of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a respected civic leader who also controls just about every shady deal that goes down in Atlantic City. The period drama, executive produced by Martin Scorcese (who also directed the first episode), meticulously brings the era to life and demonstrates that even the most established mobsters must constantly watch their backs thanks to threats from rivals and even up-and-comers in their own gangs.
Is it any good?
Boardwalk Empire revolves around Thompson, and Buscemi, as always, makes the character fascinating to watch. But Thompson, a mob boss with a soft side, isn't an especially novel character. We’ve seen men like this many times before, who will brutally beat up a man who shows disrespect but stop to show kindness to people in need. The action in this show comes from the side deals, as Thompson’s rival and underlings jostle for a piece of the action. For Scorcese and Terrance Winter, a veteran Sopranos scriptwriter, this kind of plotting is irresistible -- these are men who know how to bring gangsters to the screen.
Nucky’s driver, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), offers some of the more interesting scheming. Recently returned from World War I, he’s eager to make up for his years wasted in the trenches and is always looking for ways to get ahead. His sometime partner-in-crime is another hoodlum trying to get ahead, a young Al Capone who sometimes drives in from Chicago. But these are just some of the many stories that weave through the series. Perhaps the real story is Atlantic City, so very carefully reconstructed here to show off a unique time and place.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the show portrays alcohol and drinking. How does Prohibition affect the way people feel about drinking? What do you think might happen if a similar law was put into place today?
How does the Prohibition law affect Atlantic City in this series? Does it have the results that lawmakers intended?
Nucky is a mob boss, but he’s also loyal to his friends and has a gentle streak. Do you think he’s a hero or a villain?