HBO on the Comeback Trail?

Since the late 90’s heyday of The Sopranos, HBO has ceded a lot of the television frontier it carved out, particularly to AMC, whose brilliant Mad Men is currently the best show on television (and criminally under-appreciated in South Africa). In my opinion, a lot of this can be blamed on the channel pandering to the money-spinning Sex and the City demographic and attempting to recreate that show’s success, although the global recession must also take some of the blame for making all TV networks a lot more risk-averse than in the bountiful 90s. To be fair, they have continued to produce outstanding, expensive mini-series, so perhaps this is where a lot of their budget has gone.

However, word around the interwebs is that HBO is on the comeback trail, and if you take a look at some of the projects that they’ve got lined up for the next couple of years, it’s easy to see why. Aside from The Pacific, a Band of Brothers follow-up produced by Steven Spielberg and focusing on the experiences of American Marines in the Pacific theatre during WW II, there are two new series on the horizon that I’m particularly excited about.

The first of these is Boardwalk Empire, which, in exec-speak, reads like a cross between Mad Men and The Sopranos. It stars Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, a prohibition-ear gangster with a particularly silly name who rises to the top of Atlantic City’s crime dynasty:

Boardwalk Empire is being produced by Martin Scorsese and also stars Gretchen Mol, but is being outgunned in terms of star-power by another upcoming HBO series entitled Luck. Set in the world of Californian horse-racing, Luck currently stars Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte and is being produced Michael Mann and David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, another unjustly under-appreciated show.

While a drama about horse-racing doesn’t sound particularly appealing, the caliber of the talent involved is enough to render this potentially unmissable when (and if) it debuts in 2011.  As for the world it’s set in, I’m sure a lot of people would have said the same thing about a show revolving around a funeral parlour which turned out to be the brilliant (for three of it’s five seasons) Six Feet Under, another  show that’s become emblematic of the risky choices that earned HBO high acclaim a decade ago.

On the lighter, less prognosticky side of things, this Lost-meets-Baywatch mashup is pretty good, although it lets itself down at the end by shoehorning in stock footage of Evangeline Lilly:

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