It’s barely been 30 days since “Boardwalk Empire” was buried, but HBO had been planning its resurrection for months.
What was hailed as the next great drama for the premium cable company came and went without the fanfare of similarly crowned series. Martin Scorsese and Terence Winters’ mob drama, featuring the great Steve Buscemi, won a truckload of Emmys for its exquisite production, loads of nominations for the rest of the gang, and even snagged a Best Drama Series Golden Globe in its debut season (that HFPA really loves awarding rookies). Yet “Boardwalk Empire” was no “The Sopranos,” the series it’s so often compared to, even if it was a Sunday night force for five seasons.
It should come as no surprise then that HBO is trying to reclaim that magic for (at least) one more series. The awards giant announced today that it has ordered an untitled rock ‘n roll drama from Scorsese and Winters to series. Starring “Boardwalk” Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (the only actor on the show to walk away with a trophy from the TV Academy), Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Juno Temple and Andrew Dice Clay—and featuring Mick Jagger as an executive producer—the ’70s-set hour-long drama will “explore the drug- and sex-fueled music business as punk and disco were breaking out, all through the eyes of a record executive trying to resurrect his label and find the next new sound.” (via HBO’s press release)
The pilot for the untitled series was in production back in June, before the last season of Winters’ current show even began airing. Winters, a writer and executive producer for “The Sopranos,” had clearly already moved on to this next project with many of his buddies from “Boardwalk,” including Scorsese, who directed the pilot episode and will executive produce the series. Though the Oscar-winning director was never involved with “The Sopranos,” clearly the network believes his mob roots (“Goodfellas,” “The Departed”) will blend nicely with his musical predilections (“The Last Waltz,” “Shine a Light”), while helping Winters find his late ’90s groove.
But is that what fans are looking for in TV these days? While no one is disputing the classic status of HBO’s first critical hits, the sequel-like mentality isn’t exactly in line with the bold moves made recently by a network taking risks in both drama and comedy. Just a few weeks ago, it ordered the star-studded sci-fi series “Westworld” from “Memento” scribe Jonathan Nolan. Starring Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins, the drama will focus on an inventor (Hopkins) who runs an adult amusement park with lifelike A.I. robots. In the wake of “True Detective,” HBO is also, in addition to existing drama series “Game of Thrones,” “The Leftovers” and the aforementioned “True Detective,” moving forward with two miniseries for 2015, a genre trending to the top right now.
“Thrones,” “Leftovers” and “Detective” have broken barriers for a network that’s been built on doing just that. Whether it was with something as simple as nudity and coarse language, or ideas as daring as a show with four female leads or a largely African-American cast, HBO has been pushing the boundaries since it broke into original programming. “Game of Thrones” is one of the most expensive and lavish productions ever built. “True Detective” reshaped the cop drama genre while it redefined what it meant to be a “series” (as opposed to miniseries). Even “The Leftovers,” the most divisive drama currently on HBO, generated more discussion about religion than any other show on television.
What’s so daring about the upcoming rock ‘n roll drama isn’t apparent from its description or cast. Like “Boardwalk Empire” before it, the program seems like an imitator rather than an innovator. We’ve seen period dramas filled with drugs and sex (“Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire”). We’ve seen ambitious businessmen aiming to conquer the world (“The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” again). Heck, we’ll have even seen at least one show about the music business in 2015 alone, after FOX premieres Lee Daniels’ “Empire” in January.
As exciting as it remains to see a name like Martin Scorsese attached to TV, his latest project at HBO feels more like a sequel to a product we’re ready to say goodbye to, rather than something as original and provocative as what other, less well-known names are creating. No one wants to bury something that’s still breathing, but it’s hard to find a pulse right now.