'Boardwalk Empire' returns in grand style

Pictured: Robert Clohessy, Tracy Lynn Middendorf, William Hill,

Pictured: Robert Clohessy, Tracy Lynn Middendorf, William Hill, Steve Buscemi, Victor Verhaeghe, Ed McGinty in HBO's " Boardwalk Empire" episode 13 (season 2, episode 1) (Credit: HBO)

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"Boardwalk Empire" or "Mad Men"? Which is the best show on TV? Forget (if possible) how "Breaking Bad" fits into this question because the major awards appear to have aligned between only these two. "Men," of course, remains the King of the Emmys, while "Empire" nailed the equally prestigious Golden Globe for best drama last winter. But Sunday begins to build the case for "Empire," and build it convincingly. Similarities between both series are striking: The eloquent silences; the scenes that end without actually ending; the powerful character studies; the breathtaking period details; and most of all, that haunting, pervasive sense that something cosmic is guiding the fate of all these people.

SEASON PREMIERE "Boardwalk Empire"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

REASON TO WATCH Second season begins

CATCHING UP The Emmy-nominated drama about 1920s Atlantic City's corrupt treasurer and party boss Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) ended last season with the brutal slaying of the D'Alessio gang by Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham). Nucky, meanwhile, solidified his hold on AC after winning the election and keeping the local GOP in power thanks to the efficient vote-buying efforts of local black leader and fellow booze runner Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams). Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), the starchy Bible-thumping FBI agent with secrets of his own, decides to stay in town after he learns his mistress, Lucy (Paz de la Huerta) is pregnant; and the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) plots an end-run around Nucky with the apparent help of his son, Jimmy.

WHAT SUNDAY'S ABOUT A blast of gunfire tears into Chalky's warehouse as the Ku Klux Klan makes an unannounced raid. But Chalky gets off a shot, a Klansman is killed, and massive political repercussions arise. Meanwhile, expect developments with the Chicago mob, and up in New York with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stulberg). The Commodore gives Jimmy a lecture . . . about bears . . . and Van Alden brings his wife to town, where they mix business with pleasure.

MY SAYBOTTOM LINE Sunday's a deep breath. But the calm will be shattered.

GRADE A

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