In less than an hour, Boardwalk Empire returns for its fourth season, and with the addition of Dr. Valentin Narcisse, a character played by the venerable Jeffrey Wright. I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently and was allowed to screen a few episodes, which after viewing I can say with some certainty that the 1920s-era gangster series may finally have found its way with viewers expecting a perfect blend of The Sopranos and The Wire.
Wright's Dr. Narcisse is the black gangster that any Prohibition-themed storyline deserves. As someone who's own family certainly prospered from the years when bootlegging alcohol netted a small fortune for those bold enough to disregard the law, I can tell you that Irish, Italian and Jewish Americans were far from the only ones involved in the trade, and were not the only ones whose intelligent gangsterisms were ultimately greater strengths than their gun-slinging talent.
Where Chalky White, the show's black gangster-in-residence before now, used a more pronounced tough guy approach to asserting his authority, Dr. Narcisse's superior intellect and style of speech give him the appearance of a highly cultured and learned individual, providing a stark contrast to what Boardwalk's audience had experienced from its black gangsters before.
Without giving anything away (so that I can keep getting HBO hookups), here are three quick things to watch for during Dr. Narcisse's debut tonight:
People will get killed. Hope that's not a spoiler.
This season will bring us to the time when jazz was getting its cultural bearings within American culture. Singing, dancing, and immaculate style comes into play in a whole new way than had been seen before.
For some reason, Dr. Narcisse refers to African-Americans as residents of the same country Qaddafi used to run. If anybody out there knows from what school of pan-African thought this comes (Marcus Garvey perhaps?), please enlighten me and the rest of us.
Boardwalk Empire's fourth season starts tonight, Sept. 8, at 9pm EST. Check out the trailer here.
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