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The 50 Best TV Dramas of All Time

20. Boardwalk Empire

Network: HBO
Air Dates: September 19, 2010 – present
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt, Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Vincent Piazza, Michael K. Williams, Jack Huston, Anthony Laciura, Paul Sparks, Gretchen Mol, Anatol Yuself, Christopher McDonald, Aleksa Palladino, Charlie Cox, Dabney Coleman

No other show on TV looks as elegant as HBO's Boardwalk Empire, the Prohibition Era drama created by Sopranos veteran Terrence Winter. Decked out in plush 1920s costumes, the show's colorful array of morally shoddy characters (led by Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson) speak with eloquence and regularly drop wisdom; operating in various forms of criminality, they're also harbingers of high-art doom. And by the end of its remarkable second season, Boardwalk Empire revealed itself to be the finest of tragedies.

The tagline for Boardwalk Empire's third season was an attention-grabber: "You can't be half a gangster." And with that take-no-prisoners attitude, the drama really upped the body count, replacing the second season's overarching what-to-do-with-Jimmy (Michael Pitt) tension with bootlegger warfare.

The resulting storylines weren't all successful, most notably Margaret's (Kelly Macdonald) meandering involvement with women's pregnancy issues. Elsewhere, though, series creator Terence Winter and his writing staff methodically, and quite impressively, developed plots for tragic war veteran Richard Harrow (Jack Huston, more deserving of some Emmy and/or Golden Globe love than ever before), explosive newcomer Gyp Rosetti (underrated character actor Bobby Cannavale), and hot-tempered Al Capone (Stephen Graham) that all satisfyingly paid off. —MB

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