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Man vs. beast

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Boardwalk Empire (8pm, Sun, HBO)
Now in its second season, Boardwalk Empire remains a compelling drama about 1920s Atlantic City — an era re-created so vividly that you can practically smell the bootleg whiskey. The series stirs up a potent brew of corruption, sex and, violence, just as you’d expect from executive producers Terence Winter (a writer for The Sopranos) and Martin Scorsese.
At the heart of the story is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Atlantic City’s election-rigging politician and bootlegger. In this week’s episode, Nucky works out a risky liquor delivery while his mistress (Kelly Macdonald) arranges for her son’s first communion. “How can we avoid the fires of hell if we can’t stop sinning?” a priest asks the boy. This turns out to be a relevant question for every character in Boardwalk Empire, from gangsters like Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) to a federal agent with a guilty conscience (Michael Shannon).
The episode had me in its grip until a gratuitously graphic torture scene in the last act. The scene not only made me sick, but distracted me from the plot as I wondered why Winter and Scorsese would indulge in such artless sadism.

Iris Johansen’s The Killing Game (8pm Mon, Lifetime)
Eve (Laura Prepon) is a forensic sculptor who re-creates the faces of missing people to help police with their investigations. She’s personally invested in her work, given that her own daughter was killed by a psychopath 10 years ago. As the TV movie begins, a new psycho has his eye on little girls, and he calls Eve to taunt her with information. He hints that she’ll be killed next, and that not even a hunky cop in the Atlanta PD can protect her.
That’s a standard plot for a Lifetime mystery, but The Killing Game is a cut above. Prepon has a workaday realness, ever so slightly underacting. As a result, the movie never feels overwrought, even when Eve does crazy stuff like kidnapping a young girl from a safe house to foil the killer. She may be low-key, but this heroine surprises us with her daring moves.
“I’m sorry I’m improvising a bit,” she tells said hunky cop by cell phone.
Please, don’t apologize. We can’t wait to see what you do next.

Dean Robbins covers television entertainment for the Current. Read his longer complete column each week, only at sacurrent.com

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