June 12, 2007

Sopranos

Well, Noumena may be taking off until August, but some of us don't have a studio apartment in the Ivory Tower, so you'll hopefully be getting plenty of me all through those sun soaked months. Well, until I leave for a week and a half in July...

Anyway, The Sopranos is the most dissapointing series in recent memory and perhaps ever. Yeah, I know I've said I don't take expectations into account when I watch TV or movies, but that doesn't mean dissapointment doesn't exist from time to time. Fortunately, this last season of The Sopranos was so bad that I don't need to take dissapointment into account to trash it. I guess you should know from here that I'll be spoiling with abandon, so plan accordingly.

So, back to my utter dissapointment. The first two seasons of The Sopranos was absolutely fantastic. It was mile smarter than network TV and while not as gritty as Oz, HBO's other crime show, it still challenged what people had become comfortable with in television shows. It gave an interesting look at the workings of modern organized crime while dealing with complex issues of family, friendship, aging, and suburbia. Most of all, like Oz and any other great crime show, it made utterly dispicable characters at the very least interesting and at the most actually sympathetic. It takes a pretty good show to make you watch a scene where a doctor is hit by a moving car for making some bad bets and root for the driver.

Season 3 was still good, but starting there the show started a slow slide from being about people and their lives to being a show about the mob. The recently finished final season was more about shocking deaths than anything else. Why did Bobby Bacala and Sylvio get shot? As near as I can tell they got shot because they were popular almost-nice-guy characters who's deaths (or comas as the case may be) would pull at the audience's heart strings. Why was there even a mini mob war in the last two episodes (yeah, just the two)? Because the show was ending and I guess they needed something "big" to happen. Nothing resonated for me this season because nothing seemed to happen for a reason other than the immediate necessity of the show ending. The show wasn't "about" anything anymore. Even the end (*especially* the end!) just sort of putters along, pretending to be tense but being about nothing. Is the show about how things just go on? That would certainly be a valid and potentially interesting place to take the show, but just having your characters do the same things that they've always done doesn't make that point on its own.

All that promise at the start of the show just drained away by increasingly mediocre writing and principle actors that looked less and less like they wanted to be there the more often they renegotiated their contracts and delayed the later seasons. I've actually never had a show that I liked so much at the beginning only to hate at the end. I guess that's a rather dubious prize.

Did anyone actually make it through John from Cincinatti? I'm not the type of person who's turned of by weird obtuse fiction, but I turned it off after a half hour just bored.

8 comments:

Drew said...

I haven't watched the Sopranos for several years. It wasn't like Heroes... I never specifically decided to stop watching. They just came back from one of their interminable between season breaks and I found that I just didn't give a shit anymore.

But I did watch the last scene after I heard about the unorthodox way it ended. Jay made a pretty solid argument that Tony is dead, but it occurs to me that the way they ended it is ambiguous in precisely the wrong. Again, I haven't watched the show for years, so I'm sure there's stuff I don't get, but it feels like a "hedge-your-bets" ending, specifically designed to be open-ended so that the production team may or may not return for a follow-up.

I'd be interested to know how Ben compares this ending to, say, Angel, which also ended with a great deal of fan-infuriating ambiguity. But in that case, it seemed like the ambiguity was very much the point of the episode, as it reinforced the theme that the fight against evil, and more specifically the fight for redemption, doesn't ever end. Did the Sopranos abrupt stop serve a similar thematic point, do you think?

Bistro said...

The fact that so many prior and current fans of the Sopranos have been complaining pretty consistently since the middle of Season 3 evidences that something about the show changed. However, I always saw this as a planned evolution. The show started very Scorsese mob movie-esque, with lots of bada beeps and bada baps and oldies songs, and slowly got darker and darker each season. I think it's actually the exact opposite of what MosBen is saying. The show became less of a mob show and more about people's lives, lives that are completely dark and twisted and unlike anything most people could ever begin to identify with, until the brief moments of humanity that give the viewer a glimpse of hope for these people.

As for the ending, it was great. The most tension filled scene in the history of television. Avoided cheesey final episode conventions like a big shocker or a final line from Tony about it being "closing time" or whatever. Time keeps moving on, Tony will try to enjoy the good times, while always having to look to the door to see who's coming in. That, or he's dead.

MosBen said...

It's not that the ending is ambiguous. Plenty of shows, including Drew's example of Angel, end ambiguously and it works great. The Sopranos ending doesn't work because the whole season felt like they were out of ideas and just doing whatever they could think of that would be shocking. The show wasn't deep anymore, it was about "What will happen next? Guess who dies!"

The ending didn't ring true because it felt like they were forcing the tension like they forced everything else this year. Ooooh, Meadow has to try to park her car four times! Maybe something will happen! I've heard the last scene described as the audience getting to see what it's like being Tony, with every person or moment a possible threat, but the difference between that and hackneyed scare-mongering sceen in run of the mill horror flicks is the context the scene is in, and, granted, more than a bit of personal opinion. To me it felt like the show was drowning all year, trying desperately to find something shocking to throw at the viewer because they certainly didn't have anything thoughtful. In that context the last scene played to me like a "the killer jumps out and everybody screams" scene. Actually it played more like a "we'll make everyone think the killer's going to jump out but leave it vague in case we can cash in on a movie" scene.

Ultimately, it's not the finale I'm disapointed in, it's the whole season. The Sopranos used to be about a lot of things; this season it was about who's getting popped.

Anonymous said...

Again, I just don't see how the season was all about "who gets popped." There were only three major casualties of the whole mob war element of the story, something that has been building for 2 or 3 seasons. Easily, the most important/shocking death of the season, and possibly the whole season run, was Christopher's, a scene I don't think anyone saw coming yet made perfect sense given the history of Tony and his nephew. People getting killed is part and parcel to any show about the mafia. That said, this season was hardly a bloodbath.

Bistro said...

That last post was me.

MosBen said...

It may not be a blood bath, but I think the central theme of the season can only be "Who will or won't make it out alive?" It's not a show that's about anything anymore, it's a show that's trying to find an ending. It was a show riding on the fumes of the emotional attachment made between the audience and the characters back when the show had great writing. Nothing they did this seasson made the characters more intesting or the events emotionally relevent.

LameAim said...

Ben - have you ever gotten the chance to see Veronica Mars? I know you dig noir, should be right up your alley.

MosBen said...

Nope. It's one of *many* shows in the hopper for this fabled time where I don't have things to do. Drew seems to like it though...