A series pilot needs to grab our attention while convincing us to stick around for future episodes. The latter is accomplished by an intriguing setup, an interesting cast of characters, or both. Boardwalk Empire succeeds. There were a few Scorsese-fueled set pieces to get our attention; the beginning of the Prohibition Era is a strong setup; there are so many characters with potential we can barely keep track of them. And the acting, for the most part, matches the quality of the writing for those characters.
Thus, Boardwalk Empire has promise. The premiere was very good, and if the series maintains this level, we will indeed be sticking around. But HBO is also looking to re-establish itself as the #1 place for quality television. True Blood is popular but a bit frivolous … Treme is prestigious, but not quite up to the level of The Wire yet … Boardwalk Empire is where HBO hopes to match the success of The Sopranos, and not simply because both are about gangsters.
We won’t know if this is the series HBO desires until we’ve seen a season or more. It’s a fine start, but for now, it’s still only the second-best drama on Sunday-night TV. Which is more than enough for now, given that even the third-best drama (hello, Rubicon) is a very good show. Grade: A-.