Boardwalk Empire refers to the famous Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is the source of the city’s main income and it is under the control of one man Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson. A brotherly duo of corruption, Nucky makes the town’s policies and his brother is the sheriff who enforces them. Together they run a highly lucrative bootlegging business with some of their more recognizable associates including Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. A gripping drama of twists and turns and taut business and family situations, this show captures the prohibition era USA quite effectively and speaks volumes about the rise of the Mafia during the time. The trio of Lansky, Capone and Luciano would later go on to be the founding fathers of the Italian mafia as we know it today. The historical accuracy could be expected since the show had Scorsese on board as a consultant.
Well I have blown enough of the show’s horn, and I am sure the viewers know exactly how good a show it is. Here’s the list of TV Shows similar to Boardwalk Empire that are our recommendations. You can stream some of these shows like Boardwalk Empire on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu.
12. The Borgias
This is another fine piece of primetime television – it follows the story of the Borgia family, a family driven by ambition in the highest staked game of all – religion, more specifically Roman Catholicism in the Vatican. The family of the Pope as they rise to power doing whatever it takes and then struggles to maintain a grip reminds us of Nucky and his attempt to control the Boardwalk but at a much grander scale. There’s a reason why I keep saying that politics and religion are much bigger and much more ruthless playing fields than drug trades and the Borgia family proves exactly what high stakes can do to an ambitious mind.
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11. The Untouchables
This is a pretty old television show that aired around the 1960s and followed the exploits of Agent Eliot Ness in Al Capone’s run Chicago. Even if most of you haven’t seen the series I am sure you have seen the Ness portrayed by Kevin Costner. Well this is the same guy, the story is from the perspective of a prohibition agent that cracks down on illegal liquor. Reminds you of anyone? Yes, Agent Nelson Van Alden who was a thorn in Thompson’s side for a major part of the show. So if you want to look at prohibition from another perspective, this is the show for you.
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10. Sons of Anarchy
This show is a bit longish so viewers deciding to take this on, will have to tuck in for it is already seven seasons long. A rambling saga of a biker gang exploring themes of corruption, lawlessness and racism, this show is one of the highest rated television shows. An outlawed gang in a small town which serves as an image for the transformation of Jax Teller, a boy who takes the helm of the bikers after his father’s death. The gang attempts to hang on to their turf while fighting rivals and possible competitors, many of who appear as businessmen. A landscape where profits are up for grabs, this gang is much like Nucky’s operation, they are a law unto themselves. A gripping tale of families, feuds and cheatings in life and business this show is an emotional roller coaster and an engrossing watch.
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Set in providence, Rhode Island, this show is about two brothers, one who is in politics and the other who is part of the Irish mob, one brother makes the law, the other breaks it. While in the Thompson brother’s case they are both hand in glove in crime, this duo is much more nuanced and while their lives are intertwined, they never really mix. However the sibling tension set in the backdrop of a life of crime and politics, this show is remarkably similar to Boardwalk for its loyal viewers to enjoy.
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8. The Sopranos
This show along with The Wire introduced to the world the concept that television shows could be higher art forms. The mob boss Tony Soprano is played brilliantly by James Gandolfini. Tony runs the New Jersey mafia and the way he struggles to keep both his mob family and his married family together reminds us of Nucky’s herculean efforts as well. Furthermore Tony too has to deal with various competitors and unhealthy attention from the New York mafia. Nucky too if viewers remember had to deal with the Rothstein, Luciano and Meyers trio. Food plays an important motif in the show often acting as a substitute for affection for Tony and the show has a peculiar quirk of ending with music going into the credits. Readers might wonder why I am mentioning this fact, but if you watch the show and are stumped by the last episode, think back to what I have written and it’ll help you reach a conclusion about the brilliant way in which the show ended. The Sopranos is one of the finest crime shows on television and its similarities to Boardwalk Empire should definitely give viewers the excuse needed to jump right into this show.
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Set in Kentucky, this show explores an US Marshall who is a version of a wild west gunslinger living in modern times. A man who lets his bullets do the talking , this show goes deeper than fast paced action. It brings a man back to his town of birth and Raylan Givens played by Timothy Olyphant must reconcile himself to the townsfolk he grew up with and balance upholding the law at the same time. It doesn’t help that some of his childhood friends are pretty deep in illegal activities. Justified is a fast paced acclaimed show that explores the psyche of a man on the edge.
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6. Peaky Blinders
Here the entire family leads a life of crime and quite openly. They try to legitimize it but the crimes put strains on personal relations and we see them coming apart in the subsequent seasons. Nonetheless Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and in the latest season Adrian Brody, they all come together to form a rather impressive cast and the show set after World War I is based on a real Birmingham street gang. The music choice is brilliant, the sets and costumes are well designed, the plot and narrative is gripping and the acting is extraordinary. Much like the Thompson family struggles to hold Atlantic City against external threats, the Peaky Blinders try to hold Small Heath, Birmingham against various outside crews. The lust for power, the legitimization and the underlying ruthlessness is mirrored in these two shows and viewers would love this London street gang as they have loved Nucky’s operations.
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5. Hell on Wheels
Stretching for five seasons this show is about the first transcontinental railways. While the story focuses on a confederate soldier who attempts to track down his family’s killers, the tale is narrated like a western and in the course of following the construction of the railroad across the Great Plains one is bound to come in contact with a motley crew of unsavory characters who struggle to make a living. Just like Boardwalk explored the seedy underbelly of a seemingly innocuous and glamorous Atlantic City, this show explores the underbelly of a development project. Viewers should definitely consider watching this show.
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4. The Wire
This show was proclaimed as the best television show of all time till Breaking Bad came along. Do I really need to say more? The show is gritty and dark and explores crime on the streets of Baltimore. While the narrative line is slower and spreads across over five seasons, the storytelling is much more realistic. Further, the shifting perspectives from the police to the drug dealers portrays a continuous struggle between law and crime. Let’s be honest, if you’re watching Boardwalk crime must fascinate you. If crime fascinates you then don’t just look at organized crime from the very top where things appear rosy. This show provides a much more realistic portrayal of a life of crime, its harshness and its ground realities and what drives people to it. A thorough case study, The Wire is definitely a strong recommendation from my side.
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3. The Knick
Set in the 1900s this show is based on a hospital that tries to attract wealthy clients but also struggle with finances. The financial ambition and need is one of the similarities with Nucky’s Atlantic City. However, and even more striking similarity appears in the character of Dr John Thackeray who must balance his various drug addictions while attempting to win respect among his peers. The show is fantastic and a good commentary on society at the time. It is definitely recommended to viewers who enjoyed Boardwalk Empire.
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Crime in the 1800s with a lot of profanity, nudity and manipulative cutthroat villains. Sounds interesting right ? Set in Dakota the show features some major historical characters in a mining town where morality goes for a toss and everyone struggles to survive. It shows a lawless world controlled by a saloon owner Al Swearengen. If setting is what draws you in, and was the reason you started watching Boardwalk in the first place, then look no further, you’ll not be disappointed. Furthermore, the way Nucky exercises control over his empire is strikingly similar to Ian McShane’s Al running the Gem Saloon. Dive into this gripping tale of drugs, violence and passion and it will put Boardwalk out of your mind.
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1. The Shield
This is perhaps another underrated show, not critically for it has won many awards, but as far as viewership is concerned not a lot of people talk about this show. Set up in Los Angeles and based on the true incidents of the Rampart police department, this series follows a strike team led by Vic Mackey played by Michael Chiklis. The series is a gritty exploration into a life of crime and chaos from the eyes of a corrupt section of the police department – the strike team. While the show itself is much like a police procedural the brilliance of the show comes from its portrayal of violence, police corruption and the haunting moments of humanity that sometimes shines through Vic Mackey the protagonist. Imagine if Nucky and Eli Thompson were rolled into one character – that is Vic Mackey. Farmington or Farm is Mackey’s turf much like Atlantic City belongs to the Thompson brothers, Mackey is judge, jury and executioner in this brilliant show that explores corruption but also humanizes the perpetrators.
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