What We’re Watching – 1/11/2012

Television has been taking up much of my time, as I am still playing catch up with several shows, so these are the newest shows I have been trying out.

Boardwalk Empire PosterBoardwalk Empire

I am only half way through the first season, and while it has been a slow starter for me I am finding myself more and more intrigued. Early buzz on this show had me interested, especially seeing Steve Buscemi and Kelly Macdonald as lead characters. They are two character actors I have been fond of for a while, and the idea of them having a critically acclaimed TV show to show off their skills was too much to ignore; that hype lived up to expectations. Buscemi does a masterful job of playing Nucky Thompson, the Atlantic City County Treasurer and all-around political and criminal mastermind of the region. Within the first episode, we see how he can switch his persona depending on the crowd. He starts by giving an impassioned speech to the temperance movement for women, then another to a meeting of local crime bosses and politicians about the money that they will make with prohibition now in place. This isn’t him just being a two-faced bad guy; he is a man who knows how to survive and work the system, but he is not without heart. He works to help the community and people he is close to, including a local boy back from the war, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), whom he has been mentoring for awhile. Though, the best interaction comes when he takes an interest in the personal struggles of Margaret (Kelly MacDonald), a poor immigrant with an abusive husband.

In MacDonald we have our good soul trying to do the right thing, but she is not against a little manipulation to make a point and show that she will not be ignored. This makes her quite complex. There is a realism and an innocence to her that makes her choices enticing to watch. We can never be certain what her decisions will be or how far she will go to get what she wants or if she lets her good heart win out. It is a constant struggle, and the level of grayness in her and the way she interacts and affects Nucky are still be explored.

Where the show is at its weakest, though, is with its other characters. Jimmy doesn’t bring much to the table yet, and usually half the episodes are about him now out in Chicago. Also, several of the overall episodes do not have much of a connection between them, but they started having the same overall arc. Nucky has a problem, in between dealing with the problem he banters with Margaret a little, and then pulls together in the end and shows how brilliant he is in solving the problem. Though he is engaging as a character to watch, it does get a bit repetitive. In between that, we get random shots of what is happening with Jimmy or some other minor character that doesn’t seem to be building to anything. This problem may be coming to an end; with the last few episodes this is starting to become less so and there is a tightness of all the characters together that seems like they are building to something. No idea what it is, but I am curious to find out.

Homeland PosterHomeland

This show was on so many early discussions about the upcoming year, my biggest worry was that it wouldn’t live up to its hype. Now halfway through, I am convinced about the hype. Claire Danes returns to TV as Carrie, a CIA officer who is convinced, through intelligence that she has gotten, that a returning America POW from Iraq, Brody (Damian Lewis), is now a terrorist. Despite this being a thriller, it is actually a character study on Carrie and her passion for stopping an attack from happening, while getting glimpses into what it is like to live in this high pressure world and how it affects those around her. On the other side we have Brody, dealing with life back at home with his wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), who believed him dead these past eight years and had started a relationship with Brody’s best friend. Early episodes focus on Carrie watching Brody through security cameras as Brody interacts with his family, trying to rebuild a life with someone who is now a stranger. These sequences are just as intense as the potential attack plot; since Brody’s goals are unknown, we cannot know what he wants from his family at this point. This helps in making for realistic characters, but also keeping the tension going so the concept doesn’t get worn out. Then, when the surveillance is pulled, Carrie takes drastic measures to keep an eye on Brody, leading to some great face-to-face interactions between the two of them, culminating in one of the strongest episodes of any show this season. The big worry for upcoming episodes is: how do they end this without doing to many “gotcha” moments to keep the “is he or isn’t he” storyline going? Plus, can they take this concept into the second season?

Happy Endings

This I discovered the same way I did Parks and Recreation: from an article in Entertainment Weekly. I am now through the first season and two episodes into the second, and I am more ambivalent about the show. It follows a group of six friends in Chicago. After Alex leaves her fiancé Dave at the alter, the show follows how this affects the group dynamic. The early episodes were about Dave and Alex fighting (which got old fast), and then moved into more mini-adventures within the group. This worked for a while. The cast is charming enough and they have some good laughs, but the more I watch it, the more it seems to be falling into a lot of stereotypical sitcom ideas without bringing anything that different or new to the situation. Additionally, the characters are starting to do things that are more cringe-inducing and embarrassing than funny. The show has some quirky stuff at times that brings to mind 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation, but it is to minor it makes me want to go watch one of those sitcoms instead.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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