Much has been made of the boardwalk replica, which was designed from a close study of period photographs (the original Atlantic City boardwalk is all but long gone) and built over three months on the bedraggled Greenpoint waterfront. While the storefronts are painstakingly accurate, three-dimensional constructions, the multi-story background buildings and the Atlantic Ocean are digital creations. The casually discerning eye can—quite literally—see where the actual set ends and the CGI begins; but it's hard to say if this is a fault of the production design or the anachronism of a digitally enhanced era decades older than the technology used to recreate it.
We would expect a television series about the early years of American organized crime to be concerned with dark corners and hidden underbellies. While Boardwalk Empire delivers the requisite dirty dealings in smoke-filled dens, it also turns an eye towards Prohibition-era Atlantic City's appetite for bold (and often grotesque) spectacle. Premature babies with uncertain futures are entertainment at a storefront 'Infant Incubator Exhibit'; a beautiful young woman's corpse is splayed indiscreetly for unwitting—but not unnerved—spectators at a funeral parlor; crowds gather at a pier to ogle a fisherman's fresh haul, still floundering for last gasps. Champagne corks burst out in defiance at the stroke of midnight on Prohibition eve; a butler habitually enters the lead character's boudoir, compromising dress or positions be damned. Historically accurate or not, Boardwalk Empire draws a brazen, unflappable seaside community that gorges itself on the unseemly and the macabre. What this means for the protracted bloodbath to come is not entirely clear, but is clearly significant.