Let us once more extol the virtues of HBO. (But before doing so, it should be acknowledged the premium cable network is currently facing competition as stiff as whatever Don Draper’s drinking. The channel that’s home to Mad Men, AMC, is mounting a challenge with the wildly popular '50s drama and along with critical hit Breaking Bad and new zombie drama The Walking Dead. Meanwhile, Showtime has a hot trio in Weeds, Dexter and United States of Tara.) Another hit emerges in Boardwalk Empire, a show HBO no doubt prayed would be the second coming of The Sopranos. It is to an extent. Sopranos scribe and producer Terence Winter created the series, set in Atlantic City at the beginning of the Prohibition era. It shares DNA in terms of vernacular and atmosphere. Oh, and the central character. He’s ably played by Steve Buscemi, but would’ve been a perfect fit for James Gandolfini. He plays Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, based on Enoch Johnson, a larger than life (physically and behaviourally) player who was c-ck of the boardwalk. This is Nucky’s City and all plot lines lead to him. Whether they be political machinations, gangster activity or the trials of a widowed housewife, the various narrative strands orbit around the crooked, glib politician. Like Al in Deadwood (another HBO corker). Also like Deadwood, it looks a million bucks. And so it should. The pilot, directed by Martin Scorsese, came in at a touch under $US20 million, while the elaborate set alone cost some $US5 million. The opening credits look like they were designed by Magritte. And there's substance with the style. As is the HBO custom, the tale is slow burning and murky. But vigilance is rewarded. There's a hell of a lot going on in a single Boardwalk. The series effectively uses every minute to provide a top-down look at Atlantic City in its nascent stages and the ways citizens of differing means and backgrounds pursue the American Dream. The details: The pilot of Boardwalk Empire premieres on pay TV channel Showcase this Sunday at 7.30pm.