So, in our continuing series of Jeff Complains About Other Writers’ (Mainly TV & Movie Writers) Missteps While Wholly Ignoring His Own, what should I complain about? That while Boss is a good TV show comparisons of it to The Wire are ridiculous and make me want to smash my television in righteous anger? That I am wondering just how long the electricity and other utilities, not to mention fresh bread, will be online in the universe of The Walking Dead? (I mean, it’s been weeks or months since the epidemic destroyed civilization, right — and yet they are STILL USING THE POWER GRIDS).
No, let’s discuss Boardwalk Empire and why you’ve got to resist SitComming your stories.
SitComming, in Somers Parlance, refers to those static situation comedies where you cannot ever actually change the situation, the balance of circumstance and characters you’ve created. Every episode has to end with the characters back at square one. Sometimes, for Sweeps or something, you can introduce some chaos, but by the end of the cycle, everything is back where it was. This makes sense in a Sit Com, as that is entirely the point of such shows. But for a drama, especially a drama that is supposed to be multi-layered and complex (like Boardwalk Empire), part of the appeal is the fact that things will change and evolve.
One of my biggest complaints about The Sopranos, after all, was that it struggled mightily to keep Tony in exactly the same position week after week. The show would have been much more interesting if they’d sent him to prison, or witness protection, or simply had his empire crumble beneath him. The show flirted with these ideas, but it never actually followed through, and it weakened an otherwise excellent show.
In its first season, BE established the universe and the ground rules and the characters: Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson was a smart, sharp-dressed political boss with a dangerous Dragon as his right-hand man (Jimmy, who rose from schmuck to a cold-blooded killer pretty awesomely) and all the clout in the world. Season One was fine, if not brilliant. I enjoyed it, and I looked forward to Season Two. I was encouraged, incredibly encouraged when Season Two immediately established that Nucky was in serious trouble: He’s abandoned by his Dragon, his brother, and all of the Ward Bosses with any brains. His income dries up, his influence disappears, and everything is up in the air in a delightful way. I was hooked. I knew that Nucky would probably end up on top again at some point, but how were the writers going to do it?
By SitComming it, apparently.
Nucky’s Dragon, Jimmy Darmody, is seduced over to the opposition. This leaves Nucky without a capable killer on his payroll. Nucky himself is not intimidating. He’s Steve Buscemi, after all, and while I can believe Nucky slitting a throat in the dark, he’s not a guy to walk into a building with a shotgun and murder an entire family. That was Jimmy’s job. Removing Jimmy from Nucky’s team was the engine that drove my interest in the storyline — Nucky’s a political operator who’s gotten into the organized crime game, not the other way around. How would he handle himself? What surprises would the character hold for me?
None, because the writers wasted little time in introducing a replacement Jimmy for Nucky, a mysterious Irish immigrant Nucky is asked to give a job to. The new guy, Owen Slater, observes Nucky’s businesses for a bit and then marches into Nucky’s office and announces he’s a man who can get people to stop doing things. With a nod from Nucky he goes off, beats up some of the opposition’s guys, and establishes that Nucky has some muscle again.
In other words, Nucky’s situation is nudged back towards the center. He loses his Dragon, and thus his ability to translate his will into violent action … then he gets a new Dragon. Yawn.
Now, It’s still interesting, and well-written. And I’m curious what the New Dragon’s real motives are, whether this will turn out to be something more or different. For the moment though, I feel like the writers just couldn’t think of a way for Nucky to fight his way out of the current situation without someone like Jimmy/Owen to kill folks for him, so they surrendered to practicality and brought in the new character to redress things. It’s kind of disappointing.
The WWI veteran who wears half a mask to hide his shell-destroyed missing face? THAT GUY is awesome. I want a spinoff show about him.