HBO’s new series Boardwalk Empire started yesterday. HBO needs a new, solid crime series. In the hey day of HBO we had Sopranos AND Six Feet Under AND Deadwood AND Rome AND Carnival… when Sopranos and Six Feet Under wrapped, HBO was left with this void. Rome, while wonderful, had but two seasons. Deadwood three. HBO got a few shows right (we like Big Love) and it showed the Wire, but it fumbled the ball badly on others. True Blood started and found its voice in the second season — although it is a bit in trouble of adding too many wacky supernatural groups and getting too goofy.

The oomph lately, though, has been going to AMC and Showtime. What HBO needs is a Sopranos replacement.

I’m not certain Boardwalk Empire is a full-on Sopranos replacement but it has the potential to be something interesting. It’s crime and mob crime but its different mob crime. It’s historical set piece mob crime. Prohibition was just ratified, crime is about to explode, and no one has really gotten rolling yet. The show is about the power and money scramble under the new rules — because where someone would once pay .15 for a glass of whiskey they’ll now pony up $3. Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson is compellingly slimy without being an over the top scene chewing villain. It’s beautifully rendered. The costuming is phenomenally well done and clearly trying to give Mad Men a run for the money for its picky period details.

It has that slow build all these HBO shows have where it spends the first three episodes laying down all the groundwork and exposition before picking off characters. It has some solid mobster violence. It’s a bit more like Rome than the Sopranos — it feels like it needs historical Pop-Up Video with little bubbles and arrows to tell me who each character is and how they work into the scene. I wanted a THIS IS CICERO!!! for Rome and I needed a THIS IS LUCKY LUCIANO!!! pointer in one of the dinner scenes.

Our main concern is that Stephen Graham’s Al Capone has the potential to overshadow Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson and we want the focus of the show to be on Atlantic City instead of Chicago. (Eric said he would totally watch a spin-off of Stephen Graham’s Al Capone’s rise to power, though.) Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano didn’t stand out for me which is for the best — again, I’m afraid the camera will move to New York when we want it in New Jersey.

It’s Rome meets the Mob. I like it, but I’m not attached to it the way I am True Blood — but True Blood started kinda dumb, too. (It’s still kinda dumb, but that’s another story.) The first episode, although a bit slow with all the ground building and exposition, was by far good enough to not only earn itself a second episode but a first season. Yeah, I’ll come back and watch it.

Remember: it took a full season before we got the utterly magnificent second season of the Sopranos so I’m willing to give it the full 13 episodes.