Great dramas, comedies, concert specials and more illustrate the pay cable channel's sweep
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"Boardwalk Empire" (2009-present) & "Game of Thrones" (2010-present)
Okay, fine. I cheated on my last entry. Too much to choose from over 40 years, and these two feel like something of a matched set. At times, both "Boardwalk" (a classic gangster epic set in Atlantic City in the early days of Prohibition) and "Game" (an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels about a battle for power in an ancient kingdom) achieve the power and sweep that makes them seem like worthy descendants of the HBO dramas from the turn of the millennium. But both shows also frequently buckle under the weight of too many characters in too many locations, which forces the narrative to zip so quickly from story to story, place to place, that nothing has the impact that it should. (The season 2 "Game of Thrones" episode "Blackwater" cast a light on this problem by avoiding it altogether — spending an hour in one location dealing with a small subset of the cast — and being far more effective as a result.) "Game" is following the books, which introduce even more characters as they go along, and "Boardwalk" is at least somewhat following history, so it's hard to imagine either show tightening its focus going forward. At their best, though, each is a reminder of what can happen when you combine the resources of HBO with a lot of very talented, creative people.