4. Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire had a phenomenal season. After the series' third year saw Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson face the void left by the loss of Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody in addition to new conflicts from NYC in the form of the magnificent Bobby Cannavale, this season opened up the already compelling (under)world even further by making the leading man a supporting character in his own story. On paper, it looks like Season 4 perhaps bit off more than it could chew by expanding the story into Harlem (as well as down to Tampa), adding several characters and making the heroin trade as important to the story as moving booze, but it only added compelling layers to Boardwalk's already thematically rich and detailed period setting.

In many ways, the 'seasonal' storytelling on Boardwalk Empire is starting to resemble the approach taken by The Wire, another HBO show about illegal substances. Each year was devoted to a new setting and aspect of the Baltimore drug scene, and Terrence Winter's drama may be adopting that structure for BE (not just because they brought in writers from the aforementioned drug series) considering Season 4 put race front and center.

A decision that worked out wonderfully, giving Michael K. Williams the spotlight to duke it out with the equally great Jeffrey Wright in a guest spot that should garner a lot of recognition. Of course, there were many other exceptional threads that developed during the fourth season, with Nucky's self-imposed isolation interrupted by a southern woman, as well as family/legal troubles that provided Shea Whigham (Eli) a platform to strut his considerable stuff. All this and I haven't even mentioned Eddie's tragic exit, Richard's final journey, Margaret's re-entry or Gillian's downfall. Or the exquisite production design and striking compositions. As cinematic as TV gets. It was quite the season.

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