Taking In The Boardwalk

Kish and I have enjoyed watching the first season of Boardwalk Empire, which ended Sunday night.  I like the deliberate pace of the show and its fascinating recreation of the early days of Prohibition, and I particularly like its central character, Nucky Thompson.

Thompson has been brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi.  It is hard not to like the character or appreciate his complexity.  Nucky is corrupt and ruthless, but also a soft touch.  He is refined and a bit of a dandy, but also able to get down and dirty in protecting his turf.  He is a master manipulator of those around him, but also easily manipulated.  He maintains an iron grip on his emotions, except when he remembers his childhood and his mistreatment by his bullying father.  The contradictions that make up his character seem endless.

As the season draws to a close, Nucky has developed a new ally — his paramour, Margaret — and has ended the gang war that generated the attempt on his life.  He will know no peace, however, because other forces are  lining up against him, including his mentor, the Commodore, and his loutish brother, who cannot appreciate that Nucky has made him what he has become.  Whether those forces allied against him will include Nucky’s strong man, Jimmy, is left up in the air, and will give us a reason to tune in when next season begins.

I would be remiss, too, if I didn’t mention the depth and richness of this show, which is filled with intriguing characters who demand more screen time.  These include Jimmy’s forlorn wife, who is trapped in a marriage to a violent man who terrifies her, the proud Chalkie, struggling to make headway in a racist, white man’s world, Jimmy’s mother, who is willing to do whatever it takes to advance Jimmy’s prospects, the barely restrained, scripture-quoting revenue agent who is constantly on the verge of giving in to his baser passions, the naive Nan Britton, who expects to move into the White House with newly elected President Warren G. Harding, and Jimmy’s masked and emotionally scarred fellow World War I vet — among many others.

This is a show that offers a lot to the attentive viewer.

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Oblivious To “Icing”

At a certain age you begin to suspect that you may have lost touch with popular culture.  You realize you don’t really listen to popular music or watch TV shows aimed at the 18-to-30 demographic anymore.  You start to ask yourselves questions like:  “When did everyone get so huggy?”  And:  “When is it socially acceptable to ‘fist bump’ as a form of greeting?”  And then, in some innocent social gathering, you experience the dreaded incident.  Some younger person looks at you, wide-eyed, and says:  “Seriously?  You’ve never [heard of/listened to/watched] [insert current cultural reference]???”

I had this kind of feeling recently when an associate at the firm patiently explained the current practice of “icing.” The background goes something like this.  There is a bottled alcoholic beverage called Smirnoff Ice that is something like a wine cooler.  Some people think it is a pretty lame drink.  So, as a razz, people out at bars started sending the drink to their friends.  You’d return to your seat and find a Smirnoff Ice in front of you, say, or one would be placed under your coat.  If you got “iced,” you were supposed to chug the bottle and plan your prompt retaliation, and everyone would have a good laugh. (Sounds like a pretty good cultural development for Smirnoff, incidentally.  In fact, there are questions about whether Smirnoff came up with the idea and implanted it in the first place.)

I was, of course, completely oblivious to this.  If I had gone to a bar and found a bottle of Smirnoff Ice at my seat, I would have tried it, thanked my fellow patrons for their generosity, and gone on my merry way, missing out on all of this Gen X (or Gen Y, or whatever it is) camaraderie and causing the other patrons to conclude that I am hopelessly lame.  Since I don’t go to bars, I’m not too troubled by this particular possibility, but it makes me wonder — am I utterly unaware of other common forms of modern communication?  What other social signals are being broadcast that my antiquated social antennae are just not receiving?