7. Boardwalk Empire
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Aleksa Palladino, Stephen Graham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael K. Williams, Paz de la Huerta, Anthony Luciara, Gretchen Mol
Visually, 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 philosophical 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.
Hats off to Michael Pitt, whose performance as Jimmy Darmody, the wannabe kingpin with an incestuous past, carried Boardwalk Empire’s main Season Two arc—the overzealous Jimmy versus his old mentor, the tried and true Nucky—from beginning to its unbelievably brave and game-changing end. In Jimmy’s final moments, all of Boardwalk’s pieces fell into place, even the few that marred the season’s two or three weak episodes.