"Boardwalk Empire": Gangsters return triumphantly to HBO

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"Without the continued support of good, decent women like you, men like me would be nowhere." This is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) of HBO's new series "Boardwalk Empire" (premieres 9 p.m. Sunday, September 19), telling a crowd from the Women's Temperance League exactly what they want to hear. But behind the scenes, Nucky thinks good, decent women and other rule-followers and idealists are flat-out suckers, while realists (himself included) recognize that most people are simply governed by what they need. As Atlantic City's treasurer on the eve of prohibition, Nucky figures that the laws against alcohol are merely likely to raise the price per bottle, and he waves off the federal agents charged with enforcing the ban as powerless "dog catchers with badges." "We got a product a fella's gotta have," he explains to his fellow council members and city officials, most of whom soon join him in celebrating the new law with -- what else? -- a huge, champagne-soaked party.

Perhaps taking its cue from Nucky, HBO is now focused on giving the people what they want: more gangsters. After a long dry spell in the wake of "The Sopranos," the network is finally offering up the kind of drama that a wide audience can sink its teeth into, created by prominent "Sopranos" scribe Terence Winter with a pilot episode directed by Martin Scorsese. And one week before the show's highly anticipated premiere, a little celebration seems justifiable; it's hard to think of a series that's looked more likely to succeed. From its breathtaking cinematography to its meticulous period costumes to its smart, snappy dialogue to its talented cast, "Boardwalk Empire" presents a TV program that's so polished and beautifully executed, each episode feels as rich and memorable as its own little Scorsese film. In fact, the Academy should save itself a little time and effort and just roll a big truck full of Emmy statuettes over to the "Boardwalk Empire" studios right now....

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