A myriad of 1900s era dramas have emerged on television in the past few years, most recently with shows like Pan Am (ABC) and the ill-fated Playboy Club (NBC) yielding varying degrees of plaudit. It is consoling therefore to know that there is one viewers can go back to expecting nothing less than the utmost in quality, as Boardwalk Empire makes a triumphant return to HBO.

Granted, this period revival was arguably instigated by AMC’s highly acclaimed Mad Men, but it’s Boardwalk Empire’s mixture of extravagant budget and HBO’s trademark, almost peerless character development mechanisms, that help elevate the show to a level unattainable for most others. By the looks of the first few episodes Boardwalk Empire will continue to steal acclaim.

Season two begins within several months after the conclusion of season one, and the beautifully realized Atlantic City on which the plot predominantly centres remains gripped by the misery of state enforced sobriety. However, the desire to imbibe remains strong amongst the population, and with those illicit yearnings remain the corrupt hierarchy providing bootlegged liquor and getting filthy rich doing it. At the head of this crooked constitution we find Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), still revelling in the spoils afforded by the lucrative alcohol trade he dominates. He continues to cohabitate with his muse, Mrs. Schroder (Kelly McDonald), whose character has failed to do anything other than look worried or shocked since her introduction to the show.

Aside from his bolshie girlfriend, Nucky’s has problems with one of his business associates, Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), whose character is a transplant from his (admittedly excellent) role in The Wire. Sneers and gritted teeth abound, and his long facial scar is as prominent as ever, and he has plenty to snarl about when his warehouse is descended upon by Gatling-gun toting Klansmen. Narrowly avoiding death, Chalky shoots one of the Klansmen as they escape and in doing so lays the groundwork for a vicious race row for episodes to come. Of course, when such matters arise Nucky is charged with dealing with them, and keeping both parties on side is a razor-fine line between his political standing and his economic gains.

We left Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) rekindling ties with his estranged father who now poses a political threat to Nucky, especially as young Jimmy’s affection sways from him. If Jimmy’s association with his father is strange, then the bond with his mother is downright awkward, as demonstrated by their kissing eerily on the lips at each greeting. Regardless, Jimmy continues to be a pivotal character who polarizes the illegal alcohol trade though which he is quickly advancing.

Michael Shannon continues to utterly entrance as Agent Nelson Van Aldan, the thoroughly conflicted and complex prohibition officer, quickly establishing himself as the show’s most intriguing individual in the process. The previous season saw Van Aldan leading something of a double life, ridding the city of the scourge of alcohol by day and consuming that very substance by night accompanied by all of its seedy trappings. Add to this the fact that he got Paz de la Huerta’s character knocked up and is stealing seized money to pay her off, lest she reveals the truth to his devoutly Christian wife, and you have yourself a plotline. Did I mention Paz de la Huerta is still unnervingly good at playing a drunk person?

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Jack Huston's continually riveting character, Richard Harrow. He is as tortured a soul as ever, with his half-face plate necessitated by a wartime injury that is a stark reminder of his troubled past. Though he has found solace in the Darmody household and acting as Jimmy’s right hand executioner and director of operations, it’s plain to see his role will continue to flourish and that the death count will continue to rise sharply with him around. Similarly, Al Capone (Stephen Graham), perhaps the best-known name within the show, is a character yet to come to fruition as a major player in the prohibition bootleg trade, but this is all money in the bank for an already highly complex plot.

Settle in for another luxuriously budgeted season of political corruption, murder and its social observations of race, sexuality and gender.

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