Review: Gangster TV Shows You Should Be Watching

By Ygal Kaufman

Review_9_11With the fifth and final season of HBO’s most glorious achievement in TV, Boardwalk Empire, just started, here are two other gangster-y shows you probably missed that are well worth your eyeballs.

Ray Donovan

This Showtime gem is rounding out its second season right now and has already been greenlit for a third tilt. Though I have no idea how that is; I literally don’t know another person who watches it. It’s hard enough to find someone who pays for the Showtime channel, let alone someone who watches anything other than Shameless and Masters of Sex when they do. It’s unfortunate, because this is maybe TV’s most gripping soap opera.  

I normally don’t go for these overly dramatic, can’t-get-five-minutes-of-breathing-room-without-a-new-Earth-shattering-tragedy-occurring type shows, but this one has a few key ingredients that make it work. For one thing, Live Schreiber is a perennially underrated actor who never gets a chance to star in powerful vehicles (not counting the Humvee he drove in the execrable Salt). He shines in the titular role as a hardened Boston street tough who makes it big in LA cleaning up the messes of the rich and famous. And for another thing, the rest of the cast is phenomenal, particularly the great Jon Voight as his horrible father, Dash Mihok and Eddie Marsan as his long-suffering brothers, Paula Malcomson as his wife Abby, and the legendary and still vital Elliott Gould as his boss, crooked producer Ezra Goodman. 

The show seamlessly bounds between thriller, family drama, social commentary, and then right back to thriller. And it is insanely compelling. Don’t start the first season, available streaming on Amazon, if you don’t have 10 hours to spare, because you’ll want to burn on through the whole season in one go.   

Peaky Blinders

If you thought it was tough to catch a show on Showtime, this one will be even more difficult; Peaky Blinders is a British production that airs on BBC2. The second season is about to start in October, and the Weinstein Company has bought it for US TVs, so you can either buy season one on DVD/Blu-ray from Amazon or wait for it to hit screens here shortly.

Peaky has often been compared to Boardwalk Empire, as it similarly covers the rise of post-World War I gangsters. Only this time they’re in England. Oh, and the show is even better, which is hard to believe considering how great Boardwalk is. Blinders follows a gang of street hoods, led by the brilliant Irish star Cillian Murphy, which goes head to head with a violent and committed new police constable, played by the equally brilliant Sam Neill.   

This show has basically everything you’d want to see out of a show if its kind. It’s violent, beautifully filmed, thrilling, well-acted, and above all exciting. And now for season two, they’ve added superstar Tom Hardy, in what will no doubt be a blood-curdling and disturbing role… because he’s sort of always blood-curdling and disturbing.

Like Boardwalk Empire does so well, this show features appearances from real-life historical figures, and like Boardwalk, you should probably take care not to learn your history from the show. But when watched in tandem with an encyclopedia, or even a high school history textbook, it’s a showstopper.