Gideon Raff, Howard Gordon, and Alex Gansa, 2011–

I got four episodes into this and couldn't take it anymore.  This is a Pattern 31 show: we start out by learning a bunch of secrets being kept by various characters and then wait for the other characters to find them out.  I fuckin' hate that shit.  Like the link there says, I want to know what will happen next, not when the characters will catch up to what I already know.  Onward.

Boardwalk Empire
Terence Winter, 2010–

This one, on the other hand, I wound up liking more than I initially expected to.  It's yet another organized crime piece with the usual plots: conflicts among rival gangs, infighting within the protagonist's gang, wriggling out of the grasp of the law, etc.  The twist is that it's set in the 1920s.  After the pilot I was dubious about sitting through 36 hours of The Boogie-Woogie Sopranos Rag, but while the mob stuff is indeed pretty tedious, I am enough of a history geek that I couldn't help but be sucked in by the world of Jazz Age Atlantic City.  I don't have any particular interest in the 1920s (or in New Jersey) but where and when tend not to matter very much where Pattern 24 stories are concerned: the very fact that there is a distinct where and when, that the texture of what life was like in this time and place is central to the storytelling, means that I'm probably going to be interested.

I don't have too much to say about the content right now — sorry, but these articles are probably going to be pretty perfunctory this year for various reasons.  I guess I'll limit myself to highlighting one thing.  Because this show is set in the 1920s, the thing that all these characters are killing each other over is alcohol, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of which was prohibited in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933.  Shows like these tend to have high concepts, and Boardwalk Empire is no exception: it's about that quirky period of American history in which cities deteriorated into war zones over a product that previously had been and subsequently has been legal for decades.  Conventional wisdom has it that Prohibition was a failure, in that people didn't drink any less (though conventional wisdom is wrong — alcohol consumption in the U.S. dropped by roughly a third, and several alcohol-related medical problems dropped by more than half) while violent crime rose, and libertarians often point to it as a case study in why making things illegal tends to backfire.  Had the folks behind Boardwalk Empire been so inclined, it would have been easy enough to drop allusions to modern drug policy, but in the most recent season as of this writing, they made what strikes me as a much more interesting point.  Here's a conversation between two characters who have discovered that even though their privileged lifestyle is built on alcohol smuggling, and on the bribery and intimidation and even murder required to keep the alcohol smuggling operation running, neither of them drinks:

It's just a business in the end.

Is business meant to be like this?

Ask the man buried in a coal mine, or digging a canal, or working in a slaughterhouse. No one asks where what they want comes from, they just want it. And then believe what suits them.

So, yes, you can say that you want drugs legalized because banning them doesn't prevent drug use and serves only to foster organized crime.  But the legality or illegality of any product, this exchange suggests, is beside the point.  Look at virtually any industry and you will find this crime: vast numbers of people leading lives of misery so that others can have a slight bump in their quality of life.  I'm always struck when reading accounts of slavery that all this suffering, all these lives cut short harvesting sugar cane or processing indigo, was for nothing more than sweeter tea or blue pants.  Similarly today: the toppings on that cup of frozen yogurt and that gadget with the angry birds on it are products of a system that condemns countless people to lives spent working endless hours stooped over a row of strawberry plants or installing circuit boards on a Foxconn assembly line.  You can argue that making the liquor industry illegal handed it to criminals, and that now that Prohibition has been repealed, you no longer have back-and-forth killing sprees that are proximately about revenge and counter-revenge but are ultimately about whiskey.  But (and here I guess Homeland becomes relevant) we do have back-and-forth killing sprees, with tanks and hijacked airplanes and SEAL teams and suicide bombs and flying death robots, that are proximately about revenge and counter-revenge but are ultimately about oil.  And oil is just as legal as fruit and smartphones.  Making things legal doesn't prevent organized crime, because the very way we organize human activity is criminal.

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