Boardwalk Empire TV show

One of the best shows on television returns Sunday. The award-winning period HBO drama was adapted from Nelson Johnson's best-selling non-fiction book "Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City." It centered on real-life criminal kingpin Enoch "Nucky" Johnson.

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 On the show, the central character's name was changed to Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi). The show is run by Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Terence Winter of "The Sopranos." Producers include Emmy-winner Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg and frequent episode director Tim Van Patten. The cast also won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series.

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'Empire' also won a Golden Globe for best Dramatic Series with Buscemi also winning Best Actor in Dramatic Series. Martin Scorsese, who helmed the pilot, won the Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. Last Sunday, Martin Scorsese snagged a Best Direction Emmy for Season One's lavish premiere. Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi). The show's main protagonist, Thomspon is the Treasurer of Atlantic County. James "Jimmy" Darmody (Michael Pitt).

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At the start of last season, he was Nucky's driver and right-hand man, but the young Princeton grad was every bit as ambitious as he was cunning. When Nucky tossed him out of Atlantic City, Jimmy found himself in Chicago where he was able to align himself with enough gangland muscle for Nucky to see that he was needed back home in New Jersey. Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald). Nucky's brother is -- what a surprise -- the Atlantic City Sheriff. At season's end, he aligned himself with Jimmy and The Commodore to dethrone Nucky.

Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). Interestingly, as his investigation into Nucky deepened, so did his fascination with Margaret Schroeder. As last season ended, his resentment towards the power-hungry Nucky grew and we also discovered that he is Jimmy Darmody's father. The Commodore, Jimmy and Sherrif Eli Thompson all made a pact to reclaim Atlantic City from Nucky.

Nucky's servant is hands-on, 24/7. Al Capone (Stephen Graham). Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). The strategic thinker and consummate gambler entered Nucky's world bringing some mighty lethal up-and-comers to the table -- as well as the ruthless D'Allessio brothers who tried to unsuccessfully muscle in on Nucky's territory.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza). Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams). An ex-boxer who runs Atlantic City's African-American community is partners with Nucky in bootlegging. To his detriment, he aligned himself with the D'Alessio brothers and saw that Team Nucky was the side to be on.

It wasn't long, though, before she was out of the picture when Nucky had goo-goo eyes for Irish immigrant Margaret. Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). Last season's breakout character, Harrow was a former Army marksman who aligned with Jimmy and later Nucky. Kelly Macdonald's character on "Boardwalk Empire" — the Irish immigrant-turned-grande-dame Margaret Schroeder — would fit in perfectly at Manhattan's Bowery Hotel. Now, as the second season of "Boardwalk" gets set to premiere Sunday and with an Emmy nomination for her work on the show, Macdonald may soon cross the threshold into household name territory. In HBO's billboards and advertisements for Season 2 plastered across Los Angeles, Macdonald looms prominently beside Steve Buscemi, glamorous and larger than life.

Not far into "Boardwalk's" first season, though, the character of Margaret takes a few sharp turns and finds herself quietly, unexpectedly wielding power. Margaret's steep and twisting character arc — played with expert, nuanced touches — makes her easily one of the show's most complex and arresting characters alongside Steve Buscemi's surprisingly kind gangster, Nucky.

The 360-degree turn was intentional, according to "Boardwalk" creator Terence Winter. Part of why he cast Macdonald in the first place was so that the show's writers could flip her familiar image on its head.

When Ellen Lewis, who cast the pilot, suggested Macdonald, he and executive producer Martin Scorsese were instantly sold. Macdonald went on to work with some of the best directors. The second season of "Boardwalk" has Margaret Schroeder taking an even more assertive role, she says. In doing so, Macdonald keeps Buscemi on his toes during filming. When I initially reviewed HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" last year, I was extremely enthusiastic. My desire for a slightly more rigorous, arduous "Boardwalk Empire" will be put to the test by the second season, which premieres on Sunday, September 25.

Much of the first season of "Boardwalk Empire" was dedicated to establishing the power and reach of Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. Without changing his character or his methods, Nucky was able to woo/lure Kelly Macdonald's Margaret, keep Michael Pitt's Jimmy under his thumb, keep Michael Shannon's Van Alden at bay, manage Michael K. Williams' Chalky, belittle brother Eli (Shea Whigham) and tip-toe around the big-name crime bosses from New York and Chicago.

So we spent 12 episodes which were, for the most part, Nucky Thompson in Control. "Boardwalk Empire" returns and there's been an immediate shift. Jimmy is siding with The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) and Eli against Nucky, who mostly has Chalky (and his constituency) in his corner. A result is that Nucky is a less confident character this season and while Buscemi's performance doesn't suffer for the decline in confidence, he's often pushed to a secondary capacity. As a semi-fictional character interacting with other characters who range from completely real to totally imaginary, Nucky's prospects are both limitless and also limited. Keep an eye out for the Harrow-heavy fifth episode for Huston's best work in the series.

In terms of pure enjoyment, I don't think I liked these six episodes as much as the episodes which started Season One, but if "Boardwalk Empire" does a good job of paying off the dozens upon dozens of high stakes set-ups, the last six episodes could make the second season a stronger season overall.