HBO can be classified as an exemplary performer in the cable division. From The Wire to Game Of Thrones, the network has given us all the TV shows that are considered all-time greats. When it comes to the gangster genre, it also gave us two of the very best: The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.
The two shows both focus on the mob but they handle the topic very differently. One focusses on the violent and cunning gangsters of the 1920s, while the other show focusses on people who could as well be your neighbors, but they are secretly involved with the mob. But which among the two shows is superior? Here’s how each show trounces the other.
Boardwalk Empire: The Perfect Blend Of Fiction And Facts
Boardwalk Empire expertly provides a cocktail of real-life Prohibition Era characters and fictional ones. After witnessing a shocking moment in the show, you might find yourself typing on Google to check whether it’s real, but that’s what makes it so fascinating.
The fictional storylines are merged into real-life stories without messing up with known history. There are real gangsters such as Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, as well as fake ones such as Chalky White. Even the main character, Nucky Thompson, isn’t real, though it has been suggested that he is based on corrupt New Jersey politician Enoch L. Johnson.
The Sopranos: All About The Little Moments
The Sopranos never focussed on flamboyance or going the route of ‘extraordinary’ in order to get viewers. It told a simple mob story and made the little moments count. This did the trick in making the show relatable. Whether it was Carmela preparing a nice meal, the crew playing cards, or Tonny hanging out next to the pull while feeding ducks, the show focussed on ordinary daily tasks.
Of course, the tension was always there, and we couldn’t help but get the feeling that someone would get killed or go to jail at any given moment—but nothing and no one appeared larger than life. Even Tonny needed to see a therapist every week, and he only ran a small section of Jersey, not a whole city like Nucky.
Boardwalk Empire: Sets, Costumes, And An Overabundance Of Glamour
Boardwalk Empire is beautiful just to look at. The costume designs are incredible, and so are the nightclubs, the homes, the furniture, and anything your eyes can land on. The gangsters also don attire that is mostly associated with the mafia like fedora hats, overcoats, and silk suits.
The show is visually stunning when compared to The Sopranos. Tony Soprano drives less-expensive vehicles like the older model of the Chevrolet Suburban and doesn’t live in an expensive home because he doesn’t want too much attention. The New Jersey scenery is also lacking glamour that’s evident in Boardwalk Empire’s 1920s America.
The Sopranos: Modern America
Most Hollywood productions about the mob focus on gangsters who existed in a different era. This way, they make the viewer believe that, just like Roman gladiators, the mafia no longer exists. This is far from the case. Modern-day mobsters rarely make headlines like the likes of Carlo Gambino and Bugsy Siegel. That’s what Tony Soprano represents.
The Sopranos reflect all the things that were happening in modern America. There was a gay mob member called Vito, and, when there was a financial crisis in America, Tony suffered cash flow issues, as well. The show also portrayed an America where domestic unions were becoming more unstable as Tony is seen constantly cheating and fighting with his wife
Boardwalk Empire: Superior Dialogue
Almost every character in Boardwalk Empire was made to look smart because they come up with statements that the ordinary criminal would likely not think of. Even a junior bootlegger like McCoy came up with “and he took the loaves and fishes, looked at his disciples and said, f*** it, we’re going into the whiskey business.”
Talking smart is one of the things that made this show iconic, and the man who you’d bet was going to come up with a witty remark every time he opened his mouth was Al Capone. The show’s Capone was quite intelligent compared to the real Capone who was more of an unreasonable hothead.
The Sopranos: Tony And Dr. Melfi’s Therapy Sessions
Both Tony and Nucky had women who they were very close to. For Nucky, it was Margaret, and, for Tony, it was not his wife but his therapist Dr. Melfi. She could write a book about him or snitch on him to the feds if she wanted to because he told him too much. But she remained loyal.
Interestingly, she kept things from him. She didn’t even tell him who raped her because she knew Tony would kill the man, and she couldn’t live with that. Their sittings were always far more interesting to watch compared to the Nucky and Margaret scenes. After killing Margaret’s husband and taking her as his wife, Nucky rarely cared much about her despite her visible warmness and unrivaled intelligence.
Boardwalk Empire: Better Action Scenes
A mob movie or TV show without extreme violence would feel incomplete, and, while The Sopranos had plenty of nasty scenes, they were not served as good as those in Boardwalk Empire. It’s hard to pick out one violent scene that beats the rest in the show. They are all too good.
There’s the World War I sniper turned gangster Richard Harrow taking out someone in a bar with the bullet passing through a reveler’s glass. There’s the scene featuring Al Capone and Chalky hiding in a forest with their men before ambushing Rosetti’s men. And there’s Nucky Thompson’s brutal death, too.
The Sopranos: The Main Character
Nucky Thompson was never really a proper mobster compared to the supporting characters around him. As a politician who basically handled crime as a side gig, he was less compelling than those who were fully in it. Despite having a firm grip on Atlantic City, he never appeared as intimidating as other popular mobsters in TV and movie history. Perhaps Steve Buscemi isn’t built for lead roles.
Tony Soprano, on the other hand, had an intimidating appearance capable of causing fear among his subordinates and enemies. James Gandolfini could have made a good Al Capone, too, given that he looks just like him. It’s a shame that a modern movie about the Prohibition Era mobster was never made.
Boardwalk Empire: A Better Series Finale
There have always been complaints that The Sopranos didn’t end well. Rather than giving fans a final shocker to wrap things up, series creator David Chase concluded the mob saga inside an ice cream shop with Tony just sitting. Shortly after, the camera cut to black. So, what happened to Tony? Did he die? Did he go to prison? What?
Compare this ending with that of Boardwalk Empire which sees Nucky Thompson getting shot thrice (once in the face) by the son of a man he also shot in the face. This ending emphasizes the “live by the sword… die by the sword” analogy. However, for The Sopranos, it was “live by the sword and… just keep on living.” That’s kinda lame.
The Sopranos: It Revolutionized TV
Ultimately, it’s hard to deny the fact that The Sopranos was a game-changer. In an age where most plots were simply “Good Guy Vs Bad Guy,” the mob drama ushered in the age of the popular anti-hero on TV. The anti-hero concept went on to influence other critically shows like Mad Men.
The Sopranos also changed the way the “R-Rated” TV show was perceived. It made violence or vulgarity appear normal rather than something that should cause outrage. Before HBO accepted the show, the creator David Chase admitted that it was turned down by many networks for being too dark and risky. Nowadays, dark is the new normal.