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'Boardwalk Empire' back Sunday

Steve Buscemi: "There really was a Trees Lounge.

Steve Buscemi: "There really was a Trees Lounge. The owner was a woman named Ann Mitchell and there used to be a tree in front of the bar. That's why she named it Trees Lounge." -- Buscemi, best known for his roles on HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Boardwalk Empire," talking to the Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) about directing, writing and starring in the 1997 indie flick "Trees Lounge." Buscemi's character, Tommy Basilio, was based on the actor's upbringing in the village, including time spent at the former North Central Avenue speak-easy. The film was set in Valley Stream and some scenes were shot there, although the real Trees Lounge was gone by then. (Credit: AP)

"Boardwalk Empire," one of TV's best, returns Sunday, and if you missed my review in today's (Friday) paper, a rewind.  Basically, I loved most of the first five episodes - not the opener Sunday, however, for reasons that I get into below. But get past that, and especially into the third week, and "Empire" is back in all its glory. And the series  gets better from there. 

 The review: 

WHEN | WHERE Fourth-season premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT By 1924, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is undisputed king of the boardwalk, while out west, the Capone brothers, Al (Stephen Graham)) and Frank (Morgan Spector) are fastening their grip on Cicero, a Chicago suburb. Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) gets his own boardwalk club, the Onyx, as promised by Nucky -- but the clubbing business isn't as easy as it looks, especially when a harrowing newcomer drifts to Atlantic City. Meanwhile J. Edgar Hoover ("The Killing's" Eric Ladin) is told there's something called "organized crime" and that Nucky -- who else -- is part of the organization. 

MY SAY Based on most of the first five episodes sent out for review, "Boardwalk Empire" easily (re)establishes its claim as one of the three or four best dramas on TV. But initial impressions aren't too promising. Sunday's opener is a nasty piece of business in parts, and worse, muddled. Some fans may find themselves wondering where this is going and whether they want to go there with it.

You will (believe me, you will) but just gird yourself for something new, and in surprising ways, something better. "Empire" is richer, deeper, and -- if possible -- even more beautiful. And this does remain very much a thing of beauty and craftsmanship.

The huge creative challenge for "Empire's" fourth season is escaping the long shadow cast by the third -- a crowd-pleaser with archetypical villain, Bobby Cannavale's Gyp Rosetti, who tended to suck up so much oxygen there wasn't all that much left for most of the other characters. The series takes its time doing that, and probably needs to.

What happens after the extraordinary fifth episode, "Erlk├Ânig," on Oct. 6? Guess we'll all find out together.

GRADE A-

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Tags: Boardwalk Empire , HBO , Steve Buscemi

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