Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranos: Third best HBO series ever

Three points: 1.) Escar-go-go got more hits during the two hours after The Sopranos aired than on any day since I started it, and almost all of the visitors came via search engines like Google. Since the blog must rank something like 1500th on a search result for the show’s title, fans must have spent a lot of time reading anything they could find. Bad news for HBO if they really expected viewers to hang around for John from Cincinnati. 2.) The Sopranos is so rich in detail that I haven’t yet seen any comment on the episode’s opening shot, a close-up of Tony’s head resting on a thick white pillow while organ music played on the soundtrack — as if he were in a coffin. (The music came from some art-rock song on a clock-radio that woke Tony up.) 3.) As brilliant as The Sopranos was, something was out of whack when it was allowed to run for 86 episodes (surely no coincidence, that number) when the more nuanced and expansive Deadwood and Six Feet Under fell short of that number. Sopranos producer David Chase made the entirely defensible decision to stick to a narrow view of the world (bleak, bleak, bleak) and eschew any real character development. Almost all of the characters fell into four categories and stayed there: those who became aware that they were living in a moral cesspool but ultimately chose to stay there (Tony, Carmela, A.J., Meadow, Christopher, Vito, arguably Johnny Sack); those who steeled themselves against ever looking down and thus had fewer sleepless nights than those in the first category (Livia, Uncle Junior, Janice, Phil Leotardo); those who were too intellectually limited or innocent to question their moral choices or realize they were making any (Adrianna, Bobby, maybe Artie Bucco); and comic relief characters who never showed enough depth for us to psychoanalyze (Paulie, Silvio). The only moral character was Dr. Melfi, who was tellingly absent from the last episode. Contrast The Sopranos to Deadwood, where self-righteous sheriff Seth Bullock and amoral proto-mobster Al Swearingen evolved over the course of the three seasons until each became more like the other. Some fans complained that Al became too soft or likeable, and some were upset that in the premature series finale Seth condoned the killing of an innocent woman for coldly pragmatic reasons. But it was believable and fascinating to see both characters put aside their mutual loathing for the good of the mining town of Deadwood — their version of “this thing of ours,” to use Mafia lingo. And on Six Feet Under, we watched the free-spirited Nate evolve into a selfish hedonist as the formerly repressed (and closeted) David turn into an emotionally open, compassionate partner and father. Again, many viewers were not happy with the changes, particularly to Nate. The Sopranos deserves accolades, but the fact that it was the most popular of all the HBO dramas proves again that viewers like plot twists but hate real surprises.

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