Stroll down to the speakeasy and pop open the champagne, the freshman season of Boardwalk Empire is a success!

The first season finale of HBO’s hit series had 3.3 million viewers Sunday night, and another 900,000 tuned in for the encore showing. According to HBO, each episode has averaged 10.5 million views across live, on-demand and recorded audiences. This makes Boardwalk Empire their second-most popular series behind True Blood, and the best opening season for an HBO show since Six Feet Under.

Some viewers have criticized the show’s relatively slow pace in its opening episodes (a ‘flaw’ shared by AMC’s successful Mad Men), but the show has picked up quickly in the last few episodes and delivered a satisfying conclusion. Fans will be happy to know that Boardwalk Empire has been renewed for a second season, and barring a catastrophic drop in viewership, a few more years of prohibition-era drama seems like a certainty.

Like The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire will take its time coming back: new episodes aren’t expected until the fall. The pilot drew the highest viewership of the season, due in no small part to the promotion of Martin Scorsese’s involvement. It has been noted that Scorsese may be directing future episodes, time permitting.

The show’s mix of real and fictional gangsters, politicians and G-men is a potent one. Combined with typically top-notch period piece production design and casting from HBO, (not to mention a healthy advertising campaign) it’s no wonder that Boardwalk Empire has caught on so quickly. The show’s hair-trigger tension and quasi-historical Atlantic City setting make it compelling television – you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it on TV, now or in the last ten years. The episodes are lighter on action than the trailers would indicate, an observation that has irked some viewers.

Steve Buschemi, who is used to small supporting roles in big pictures, has drawn favorable reviews for his character “Nucky” Thompson. Expectations for Stephen Graham’s portrayal of a young Al Capone are high, especially considering his other gangster roles in Public Enemies and Snatch. If the show writers are accurate (and smart) they’ll allow the iconic gangster to slowly gain underworld momentum over several seasons.

Boardwalk Empire season 2 will premiere fall 2011, on HBO

Source: Entertainment Weekly