There might be a new Globe in London, but if there is a true new heir to the Elizabethan playwrights in our time frame, a very good candidate would be American TV drama and specifically the studio HBO which has produced so much that is daring and original and sophisticated in drama for the past ten years or so. The Wire, Deadwood and The Sopranos, and from other studios Breaking Bad, Madmen and even genre stuff like Battlestar Galattica have been consistently brilliant. Of course, it couldn't last and I feel, as much as I hope I am wrong, that Boardwalk Empire is the John Dryden phase of HBO. Gone is the inventiveness and startling daring of creativity and now we have in its place shining vintage motorcars, heavy mahogany furniture, perfectly recreated costumes, the fabrics of which are HD perfect. As you're watching you can almost write the PR stuff yourself: the set cost x amount to build; historical experts brought in to get details just right; thousands of extras, seamstresses, handmade, yada yada.
But Jesus, the script. And the acting. And the script.
It would be easy to blame the casting of Steve Buscemi, so lets start there. Nooky Thompson is part mobster part politician--a salient fact pointed out in the very first season and which the rest of the episodes never really decide. He huffs and puffs a bit, but his favourite expression is looking vaguely nonplussed. I like Buscemi but he doesn't have the range to carry this off. He is neither compelling nor dangerous and I cannot for the life of me even imagine why Kelly MacDonald's supremely annoying mono-expressive Mrs Schroeder should find anything in him that isn't simply repugnant. It's not that he's no oil painting: neither was Tony Soprano, but there's no charisma, no charm, no humour. And there is so little sexual chemistry between them as to make their later scenes frankly embarrassing for all concerned. Mrs Schroeder is a deeply uninteresting character. Her moral quandaries are so shallowly played out I almost felt they were insulting. Not to mention we'd already seen this with Edie Falco's Carmella Soprano, and so much better. Just as we'd already seen the horrific parent (changed from mom to dad), the young apprentice gone awry, the feckless sibling (sister to brother). In fact the changes were so perfunctory they actually called attention to themselves.
This is not to say there wasn't a lot to admire. There was. Stephen Graham's Al Pacino etc, the sets, the scenery, the costumes. But that's just it there were lots and lots of things and they were all put out there for us to admire. I felt myself admiring a lot, lots and lots, but I was never engaged and finally, having stuck with it for two whole seasons, I began to sag. There was all this Drama, but not once did I care about what was going to happen. There was even a protracted discussion of John Webster shoe horned in to the final episode so that you could ah you see it's Jacobean, the whole thing. But it wasn't.
It was Dryden. Dried and done.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.