There is no denying the impressive potential of Boardwalk Empire, but the way it is being trumpeted as the bellwether of HBO’s return to greatness has a tinge of sexism to it. The idea is that since the end of The Sopranos, HBO hasn’t been the same, but that Empire is just the thing to take the network back to the top.
The unspoken assumption … well, in many cases, it is openly admitted … is that series such as True Blood and Big Love, good as they might be, aren’t as “important” as The Sopranos was, or as Boardwalk Empire hopefully will be. True Blood is very popular, a clear water-cooler classic, and Big Love has received plenty of acclaim, as well. But neither exists within a traditionally “male” genre like the gangster worlds of Sopranos and Empire. True Blood is a vampire tale where the subjects of our gaze are just as likely to be men (Bill and Eric) as women (Sookie). Big Love is, at its core, a family melodrama.
I am one of those who think True Blood and Big Love are a level below the top, the former being an extremely entertaining trifle (nothing wrong with that) and the latter being scattered with too many uninteresting subplots. But, given that we’ve only seen one episode of Boardwalk Empire (critics have seen more), it’s unfair to assume the new series will re-establish HBO in ways True Blood could not.