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An Oral History of The Sopranos
March 16, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

The Family Hour: An Oral History of The Sopranos
[single-page print version]
EDIE FALCO (Carmela Soprano): After we shot the pilot, David said, “Well, that was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, no one will ever watch this show, but you guys have been great.” And that was the end. Or so we thought.
posted by kirkaracha (61 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Read the print version just last night before bed. Awesome. I wish it was about 5 times as long and ten times as detailed. I'd love, for example, to hear Chase and his crew go through the edit-by-edit decisions that led to the virtuoso Season 3 opening sequence (with the soundtrack phasing in and out of the "Peter Gunn" theme and "Every Breath You Take" and Tony singing tunelessly along to Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" as the Feds plant a bug in his house).

Meantime, though, this'll do:
STEVEN VAN ZANDT (Silvio Dante): It was an interesting moment in my life because I had pretty much run out of options. I’d left E Street Band and had gotten obsessed with politics. Did five solo albums with political themes and ended up killing any hope of a musical career by being so extreme politically. All five of my albums were extraordinarily different, which is a sure way to stop a career from happening.

DAVID CHASE (series creator): I had always been a Bruce Springsteen and E Street fan. I used to listen to music a lot on headphones and look at the LP, and Steven Van Zandt’s face always grabbed me. He had this similarity to Al Pacino in The Godfather. Then we were casting the pilot, and my wife, Denise, and I were watching TV. Steven came on VH1, when they were inducting the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steven gave the speech. He was very, very funny and magnetic. I said to my wife, “That guy has got to be in the show!”
I think of Little Steven as having this totally charmed life. (I mean, who wouldn't want a career arc that goes Springsteen's lead guitarist --> anti-apartheid spokesguy --> Sopranos cast member --> internationally syndicated garage rock DJ?) Funny to imagine him thinking, well, so much for the ole career, and then it's his Rascals HOF induction speech that ushers in maybe the best chapter in the whole thing out of nowhere.
posted by gompa at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


the virtuoso Season 3 opening sequence (with the soundtrack phasing in and out of the "Peter Gunn" theme and "Every Breath You Take" and Tony singing tunelessly along to Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" as the Feds plant a bug in his house).

Hah, that was awesome. So awesome.

Thanks to OP for posting this. I loved that show. It's probably the last series I ever watched (except for the Venture Bros.)
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


TV has the potential to be way more compelling than movies, but also far more embedded in a time, more enmeshed in the current culture where movies have to be universal and ageless.

I wonder, as much as I love the Sopranos, if it will age as poorly as other great important serious TV series, like Hill St. Blues or Dallas and even (sorry folks) Twin Peaks?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:55 AM on March 16, 2012


The thing, for me, that was so poignant about the Sopranos, and I was just talking about this with a fellow GreaterNYMetropolitanArea person recently, is that I knew at least two thirds of the 'people' in that cast. Not personally, but I think I knew one doppelgänger for each character. In this way it was show about New York/ New Jersey. It was a show about slightly post-immigrant America.

I know that show about Baltimore is also very fine, but I will always feel a kind of wild kinship/love for the Sopranos because it was telling me, "Yes, this world you know we know it too, we've heard the same tories you did and now we are going to take them and spin them into myth." It was like a greatest hits of all the insane shit guys would say on the job-sites. It was an almost pure distillation of that place at that time.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Once again I ponder the virtues of a series finale that is indistinguishable from a cable TV outage.
posted by zamboni at 9:04 AM on March 16, 2012


Once again I ponder the virtues of a series finale that is indistinguishable from a cable TV outage.

I actually found a couple of the quotes near the end of the article to really resonate on why it ended the way it did. Maybe there was some closure on it offered in a similar vein somewhere before and I missed it, but when I read these in the print version the other day, I tore them out of the magazine on the plane to take with me:

MICHAEL IMPERIOLI (Christopher Moltisanti): I thought it was a great ending. A lot of people hated it and thought it was a cop-out, but I thought it was the proper way. Knowing David Chase, he never liked to wrap things up neatly. I never expected it to be either a cliffhanger so people would wait for the movie or wait for another season or just some like really final thing. But I think he’s dead, is what I think. David was trying to put us in the place of the last things you see before you die. You remember some little details and something catches your eye and that’s it. You don’t know the aftermath because you’re gone.

TERENCE WINTER (writer, executive producer): I watched 18 different versions of the last scene of the series finale. All very subtle variations on each other, but that was so painstaking, shot by shot by shot, and it took David weeks I think to put that ending together. I thought it was great. What I always took away from it was: when you’re Tony Soprano, even going out for ice cream with your family is going to be fraught with paranoia, and whether or not a guy comes out of that bathroom that night, eventually somebody’s going to come out of the bathroom somewhere. Maybe it happened that night, maybe it didn’t. But his legacy is paranoia and just that horrible distance that he lives in.

---
In any case, I hold out a dim hope that I will at some point in the remainder of my days watch something on television that approaches the level on which I will forever hold the Sopranos.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:10 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


One F.B.I. agent told us early on that on Monday morning they would get to the F.B.I. office and all the agents would talk about The Sopranos. Then they would listen to the wiretaps from that weekend, and it was all Mob guys talking about The Sopranos, having the same conversation about the show, but always from the flip side. We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.

that's mass culture at work. talk about postmodern, cops talking about a cops and robbers show, then listening in to the robbers, talking about the cops and robbers show.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 AM on March 16, 2012 [21 favorites]


other great important serious TV series, like Hill St. Blues or Dallas and even (sorry folks) Twin Peaks?

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just isn't the same.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was just going to post that same quote.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:13 AM on March 16, 2012


gompa: " I'd love, for example, to hear Chase and his crew go through the edit-by-edit decisions that led to the virtuoso Season 3 opening sequence yt (with the soundtrack phasing in and out of the "Peter Gunn" theme and "Every Breath You Take" and Tony singing tunelessly along to Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" as the Feds plant a bug in his house). "

That was my favorite sequence of the whole series. That mashup (minus the Steely Dan part!) is on their Peppers and Eggs soundtrack.
posted by zarq at 9:16 AM on March 16, 2012


Once again I ponder the virtues of a series finale that is indistinguishable from a cable TV outage.

I was both shocked and impressed in the moment, but the further I get away from that ending, the more powerful it's become in my mind. The whole final sequence, the ambiguity, "Don't Stop Believin'," Meadow botching her parallel park. Every single detail. I made a pilgrimage to that North Jersey diner a couple years back. Sat there thinking, yup, this is the end of something right here, alright.

And then that cut to black so hard it made everyone think their cable just went out. In an episode entitled "Made in America." Sit in that diner booth wallowing in past glories all you want, the power's still gonna cut out hard. G'night, America! Show's over! All of it!

Fucking awesome.
posted by gompa at 9:17 AM on March 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


You shot a pilot? DON'T SAY DAT OVER DA PHONE!!!!!!
posted by The Deej at 9:19 AM on March 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


gompa: "And then that cut to black so hard it made everyone think their cable just went out"

I remember hearing one of my next-door neighbors scream, "WHAT THE FUCK!! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!" ...at the very same moment I leaped out of my chair to smack the cable box.
posted by zarq at 9:23 AM on March 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


In any case, I hold out a dim hope that I will at some point in the remainder of my days watch something on television that approaches the level on which I will forever hold the Sopranos.

If I recall correctly, they only ever did that one flashback to the days of Tony's dad and Uncle Junior as young men on the rise. I've long held out hope that David Chase could be persuaded to return to that world to make a tight little one-season arc of a prequel.
posted by gompa at 9:26 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder, as much as I love the Sopranos, if it will age as poorly as other great important serious TV series, like Hill St. Blues or Dallas and even (sorry folks) Twin Peaks?

Never watched Hill Street Blues, but Dallas was always crap and Twin Peaks is still excellent. The mix of Lynch weirdness with its campy tongue-in-cheek tone makes Twin Peaks transcendent. You want a show that isn't aging well, look at The X-Files. Used to be a favorite of mine, but now I can't really watch a full episode without repeated "really, Mulder? Really, Scully?" moments. If you were to make a parody of X-Files you could pretty much just re-shoot any random episode with a few extra dramatic pauses.
posted by Hoopo at 9:44 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


And then that cut to black so hard it made everyone think their cable just went out

My now-wife and I were on the road when it aired, so we resolved to just go on media blackout, download the torrent as soon as it was posted, and watch.

So when the ending came, we figured something had gone wrong with the seed, and man, we felt like the most unlucky people in America.

I adore roundtables like these, but this one really should have been longer, given the breadth of the show. I mean, compare it to the one GQ did for Goodfellas, which was just a two-hours-and-change movie (but a hell of a movie, no doubt.) This one feels like it's should be the first of like twenty installments.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:47 AM on March 16, 2012


> But the way the public behaved, it was like somebody took the bottle away from a baby. Outrage and shock.

lolperfect
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2012


I wonder, as much as I love the Sopranos, if it will age as poorly as other great important serious TV series, like Hill St. Blues or Dallas and even (sorry folks) Twin Peaks?

"How's Annie? How's Annie?" still makes me sad and frightened. Poor Dale!
posted by Zerowensboring at 9:50 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I know that show about Baltimore is also very fine, but I will always feel a kind of wild kinship/love for the Sopranos...

My two cents: overall The Wire was better/more consistent, but there were individual episodes of The Sopranos that were even better than the best of The Wire.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:50 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michael Imperioli's interpretation of the ending is exactly how I understood it too:

1. Doorbell
2. Tony's reaction to doorbell
3. Tony's POV

That happened over and over in that scene every time someone new came in the diner, up ntil the end, when Tony's POV was a black screen.
posted by emelenjr at 9:55 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My two cents: overall The Wire was better/more consistent, but there were individual episodes of The Sopranos that were even better than the best of The Wire.

I'd mostly agree, and I think that's as much a sort of structural advantage as anything. By switching its focus each season, The Wire guaranteed itself a blank canvas to work with - new characters and scenarios, you didn't have to keep visiting and revisiting McNulty's failed marriage or whatever. Whereas whatever drama and action and comedy The Sopranos wanted to produce had to be extracted from a single extended family. Higher degree of difficulty on that, I'd argue.

In any case, we're lucky to live in an age where we have to argue which of the long-form novelistic TV dramas was more brilliant.
posted by gompa at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


It wasn't perfect... some parts of the later series were pretty iffy, but when it was on its game it was brilliant and...

ALLEN COULTER (director): Sopranos gave the lie to the notions that you had to explain everything, that you always had to have a star in the lead, that everybody had to be ultimately likable, that there had to be so-called closure, that there was a psychological lesson to be learned, that there was a moral at the center that you should carry away from the show, that people should be pretty, that people should be svelte. The networks had essentially thrown in the towel on good drama. It’s like changing the direction of an ocean liner. But Sopranos did it. They changed the game.

May be something similar might have come along, but as it stands... No Sopranos = no Wire, no Breaking Bad, no Boardwalk Empire...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:59 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Sopranos – and really almost any other one-hour show of quality – was filmed as coherent one-hour units, so I think there are individual episodes of a number of shows that beat the best individual episodes of The Wire. The Wire is more of a serial composed of scenes that are stitched together to form a season, which is why people don't really recall whole episodes (let alone by name) but instead "that scene where D'Angelo teaches the kids chess", etc.
posted by furiousthought at 10:02 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case, we're lucky to live in an age where we have to argue which of the long-form novelistic TV dramas was more brilliant.

Damn straight. I favour The Wire, but also have a lot of love for The Sopranos. We've been in a Golden Age of television.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:05 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Sopranos – and really almost any other one-hour show of quality – was filmed as coherent one-hour units, so I think there are individual episodes of a number of shows that beat the best individual episodes of The Wire

I think you have that backwards. I tried to jump into a later-season episode of Sopranos after seeing up to Season 3, and I had no idea what was going on. You pretty much had to watch everything in The Sopranos to keep up.
posted by Hoopo at 10:09 AM on March 16, 2012


Once again I ponder the virtues of a series finale that is indistinguishable from a cable TV outage.

STEVEN VAN ZANDT (Silvio Dante): "'I'll tell you exactly what happened. The director said cut, the actors went home. That's what happened.' It’s a TV show. It’s a fucking TV show, O.K.?"
posted by kirkaracha at 10:10 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sopranos episodes followed a formula of an A and a B plot taking up a third of the time each and a C and D splitting the other third, and they all kind of share a theme. Chase is explicit about this in the script book I picked up remaindered, though I started noticing it myself before. The Wire seemed to be much more free form to me.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you have that backwards. I tried to jump into a later-season episode of Sopranos after seeing up to Season 3, and I had no idea what was going on. You pretty much had to watch everything in The Sopranos to keep up.

What I mean is that the episodes stand alone as dramatic units. They have their own arcs that happen over the course of the hour. At least, more so in The Sopranos than in The Wire. That doesn't mean you don't need prior knowledge to understand the characters and their motivations, which, yeah, definitely true of The Sopranos (especially later).
posted by furiousthought at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2012


This is awesome:
VINCENT CURATOLA (Johnny “Sack” Sacramoni): We did casinos, we did huge banquet halls—I think these people must have paid $100 apiece to get a picture. The fans were remarkable. And it’s funny because two years ago I went to a different church for Mass with [my wife] Maureen, and I got up to get Communion, and the priest looked at me and said, “Oh, Body of Christ, Johnny.”

TERENCE WINTER (writer, executive producer): One F.B.I. agent told us early on that on Monday morning they would get to the F.B.I. office and all the agents would talk about The Sopranos. Then they would listen to the wiretaps from that weekend, and it was all Mob guys talking about The Sopranos, having the same conversation about the show, but always from the flip side. We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.
posted by zarq at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, last year I took it upon myself to watch all the great TV shows I missed because I never had cable. So I watched the Wire. Amazing. Excellent. Comparable to Tolstoy, in my estimation. Watched Breaking Bad. Not as awesome -- because really, how you gonna come at the king? -- but amazing and awesome nonetheless. Then I watched the Sopranos and ... hmmm... yeah, enjoyable, but not in the same league.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great show; it's basically the longest mobster movie ever made, and I love mobster movies. But, on the whole, I think it must have been more compelling as a weekly TV show. Watching it on DVD back-to-back, it became apparent that the writers were just making it up as they went along.

Basically, they'd introduce a new character, that character would become a big deal, and then when they'd run out of things to do with the character, they'd kill em off. So unsatisfying. And dear god, so many car accidents. Every time there was a sideways shot of someone driving a car, you knew an accident was coming.

There were other problems with the show. I wish I could get back every minute of my life I spent watching A.J. on screen fucking things up. Why give him so much screen time in the last season? Then there was the VERY GRAPHIC rape scene which was quickly forgotten about 5 episodes later. Of course there were all the unresolved plot threads, but for some reason, those didn't bother me as much; it was just further indication that the writers were making it up as they went along.

That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the show; in fact, I enjoyed it immensely. But there were a few mistakes that kept it from being a great show, or at least in the same league as Breaking Bad and The Wire.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2012


I wonder, as much as I love the Sopranos, if it will age as poorly as other great important serious TV series, like Hill St. Blues or Dallas and even (sorry folks) Twin Peaks?

I was too young for Twin Peaks when it first aired. My wife and I have been watching it recently and I was startled at how well it has aged, both in artistic and technical execution. Basically, aside from maybe the music, I think that show would still be a hit if its run had started twenty years later.
posted by 256 at 10:38 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The writing on The Sopranos is much better than the writing on Breaking Bad in terms of pacing. I can't go into why without spoiling the hell out of Breaking Bad (which is definitely worth watching).

The biggest weakness of Breaking Bad is that its female characters have the feeling of afterthoughts, both in casting and writing. Not so in The Sopranos.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:58 AM on March 16, 2012


There was one episode of Breaking Bad I disliked so much it put me off watching Season 4. I know I will pick it up again eventually, but the episode where they're trying to swat the fly was so tedious it basically made me re-evaluate the prospect of watching more of the series that I had devoured so quickly up to that point. That was the proverbial jumping of the shark for me. I've watched an episode and a half of Season 4 and just can't bring myself to continue.
posted by Hoopo at 11:03 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


the episode where they're trying to swat the fly was so tedious it basically made me re-evaluate the prospect of watching more of the series

Yeah, that was basically a failed bottle episode. The people at the Onion AV Club seemed to like it, and I was all like, "what?"

I guess, on an episode-per-episode basis, The Sopranos probably had better writing than Breaking Bad. But I feel like Breaking Bad stands up to DVD-watching better than the Sopranos, because I feel like the writers are going somewhere with this.

Killing off characters like that just seemed like so much of a cop-out, when what I wanted was effective resolution. Basically, every story arc ends with someone getting killed. And, while I'm sure North Jersey gangsters don't exactly have a long lifespan, I can't imagine they get killed with such frequency, especially the guys at the top.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:11 AM on March 16, 2012


I wish I could get back every minute of my life I spent watching A.J. on screen fucking things up. Why give him so much screen time in the last season?

The scene in which AJ attempts suicide and is pulled out of the pool by Tony was one of the most emotionally devastating things I've ever seen.

When AJ and Tony are together on the edge of the pool afterwards, you almost feel like it's intrusive to watch. I just tried and couldn't get through it on YouTube. Maybe it's just me.
posted by colie at 11:15 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I guess I just get annoyed by "fool" characters. A.J. Soprano. Ziggy Sobotka. Andy from Parks and Rec. Just not my thing I guess.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:20 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The biggest weakness of Breaking Bad is that its female characters have the feeling of afterthoughts, both in casting and writing.

Biggest weakness by far. Never mind The Sopranos or The Wire, even second-tier boys-clubs like Sons of Anarchy and Justified do female characters better than Breaking Bad does.
posted by box at 11:26 AM on March 16, 2012


I thought that AJ was, in his own way, the mirror image of his father. In Japan there's a saying that kids who are not good for anything have two choices: join the army, or join the mafia.

They tried to put AJ into military school, but Tony was too softhearted to see the process through, and, like any blue collar tradesman, there's no way he's going to let his son join the family trade. So you have this dumb, foolish, aimless kid who's lost because his parents don't have the skills or emotional intelligence to point him in the right direction.

Whereas, back in Tony's day, the choice was pretty clear: join a crew, and become a man.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:28 AM on March 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


OK, I've mostly been w/o TV since 2000, but... Little Steven was in The Sopranos! Wow! Thanks, gompa! (this close to eponysterical)

And, given that confession, I've always been amazed at the rage people expressed over The Soprano's ending. I watched ?2? episodes earlier, and from what I heard of it (this thread corroborates), it was a perfect ending.

Also: Dallas was never considered serious. It was nighttime soap. And no one ever considered Twin Peaks serious. It was (what we now know as) Lynchian Absurdism.

But HSBlues was immense. And, as a loyal Pittsburgher, I must point out: written about Pgh's Hill Street district.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: "Yeah, I guess I just get annoyed by "fool" characters. A.J. Soprano. Ziggy Sobotka. Andy from Parks and Rec. Just not my thing I guess."

There were plenty of characters on the Sopranos that weren't that smart, and that was played for laughs.
Carmella: And then after they go to dinner in the city, he's taking Meadow to see Aida.
Tony: I EAT HER?!?
Carmella: No, Aida. It's a show. A Broadway show.
AJ wasn't unique in that regard. But there was a lot more to AJ's character than Fool.

KokuRyu: "I thought that AJ was, in his own way, the mirror image of his father. In Japan there's a saying that kids who are not good for anything have two choices: join the army, or join the mafia."

Yes, precisely. Tony wants his son to be better than he himself was. Sharper, more intelligent, better educated, more successful, less of a thug. But A.J. is who Tony would be without direction, pressure and drive. Without the Family and the Family Business. AJ's saddled with frustration and depression that he's not making anything of himself and won't ever measure up to his father's ideals.
posted by zarq at 11:38 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Japan there's a saying that kids who are not good for anything have two choices: join the army, or join the mafia.

I guess it was a self-deprecating in-joke on the part of David Chase to have poor useless AJ finally begin to make a career for himself in the... TV AND MOVIE INDUSTRY by the end of the series...

Overall, an amazingly powerful study of father-son relationships. Which are things you can't go back and re-do, just like you can't watch all 86 episodes of The Sopranos for the first time ever again, unfortunately.
posted by colie at 11:39 AM on March 16, 2012


The thing, for me, that was so poignant about the Sopranos, and I was just talking about this with a fellow GreaterNYMetropolitanArea person recently, is that I knew at least two thirds of the 'people' in that cast. Not personally, but I think I knew one doppelgänger for each character.

Similarly, I knew a few of the "people" in the sense that I knew a few actors who got bit parts or small parts. (I did a show once with the guy who was Tony's football coach for three episodes; it was originally just going to be one episode, but the actor is kind of a force of nature so it turned into three episodes.)

I also had a hysterical conversation once with an actress who'd attended one of the general "keep me on file as an extra" cattle-call auditions. She said it was absolutely fascinating; it was a big room filled with people, about half of them GreaterNYMetroArea actors like her, and half of them -- and these were her words -- "guys from Jersey with no neck". One of the guys in the room, she said, was making small talk with her, and "as he's telling me the story, he actually said, 'ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom', and he meant it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess, on an episode-per-episode basis, The Sopranos probably had better writing than Breaking Bad. But I feel like Breaking Bad stands up to DVD-watching better than the Sopranos, because I feel like the writers are going somewhere with this.

Episode by episode? Breaking Bad is candy. Absolutely, nothing wrong with that. It's fun to watch the same way the best episodes of Lost were fun to watch. You're watching to see what crazy situation the writers will put Walt in next and how Walt will wile his way out of it. But don't kid yourself that the show goes much beyond surface. It's biggest point is that pride corrupts.

Forget the fact that The Sopranos was the first television show to have movie-level acting, cinematography and an extended narrative (and also forget that no series created since has been as formally daring). The series could have easily been "Goodfellas: The TV Show" and still be a monster hit. However, the creators were deeply invested in going beyond the genre trappings of typical mob stories. As the article notes, The Sopranos was about the midlife crisis of a pathetic brute and his poisonous family life. The mob part of the story just gave it an extra edge.

The show had its ups and downs (seasons 4 and 5 tread a lot of water) but for every episode about Christopher trying to get into the movie business there was a dream episode. When has Breaking Bad been anywhere near as daring?
posted by bittermensch at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2012


I kinda think there is 'television' and 'something else'... Wire, Boardwalk, Sopranos are all something else (with the Wire just having the edge, though Boardwalk is catching up) Sons of Anarchy is definitely still television and Breaking Bad kind of straddles the line, falling back into 'only television' a few too many times.

I've just finished watching via an episode or two a day binge... I was waiting for 'that fly episode' to come up and as I'd heard it was like 'the worse thing ever' I had fairly low expectations. However I didn't find it that bad, though I imagine thinks might have been a bit different if I was watching episodes a week apart.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:15 PM on March 16, 2012


The comparison between Breaking Bad and The Sopranos is interesting, however. Both work much better viewed as black comedies (about men who refuse to look at themselves in the mirror) rather than kind of drama Deadwood, Man Men and The Wire dealt with. If The Sopranos is The Honeymooners/The Simpsons, Breaking Bad is...The Odd Couple?
posted by bittermensch at 12:15 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, regarding the Fool thing... At various points in the show nearly every single character was made out to be something of an idiot.

Paulie: You're not gonna believe this. That guy killed like 16 Czechoslovakians. And he was an interior decorator.
Christopher: Really? 'Cause his house looked like shit.

posted by zarq at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I started rewatching The Sopranos last year and pretty quickly realized the show was a one-time deal for me. One of the major themes is that nothing changes. Watching the series again I know that not only will A.J., Meadow, and Janice never not be annoying, but they'll get more and more annoying as the show goes on. A mobster/relative will get out of prison and want his due, cause more and more touble over the course of the season, and get killed at the end. Season after season after season. And then there's the total clusterfuck of the last season.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:23 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it really necessary to rank television shows? You like what you like. I loved the Sopranos because it had it all: an investigation of how men interact together, a satire of the middle class (the viewers themselves) and social mobility, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, consumerism and materialism...
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between a character being a fool, being played for a fool, and being a hopeless, bumbling fool.

For example, D'Angelo Barksdale is somewhat of a fool. He's definitely played for a fool. But he's not a bumbling fool. In fact, he's just smart enough to get himself into trouble. And every move he makes, he gets further entangled in his web of fate. That's why his character is tragic.

When a character is Too Dumb To Live, it's hard to effectively sympathize with them. Like with A.J., I get who is is and why he is who he is, but I just don't enjoy watching him. Especially in the last season, where they give him so damn much screen time, and he's all moping and bumbling around, being alternately depressing and ridiculous. I find myself thinking, "this is not what I watch The Sopranos for." It's like the terminally boring and irrelevant subplots with Peggy's family in Mad Men -- which hopefully we'll be spared from in this season, since she lives in Manhattan full-time now.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:28 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


(who is is = who he is)
posted by Afroblanco at 12:29 PM on March 16, 2012


In my house, we call certain scenes "AJ moments" -- where a young person is shown to be failing (at life, at a task, whatever) for a long, seemingly endless, amount of screen time. And the characters don't always know that they are failing, but the audience does. These scenes can be so painful to watch! (we may also take tv too seriously...)
posted by armacy at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Afroblanco: There were other problems with the show. I wish I could get back every minute of my life I spent watching A.J. on screen fucking things up. Why give him so much screen time in the last season? Then there was the VERY GRAPHIC rape scene which was quickly forgotten about 5 episodes later.

These are the only two things that I disliked about the show.

I started devouring these on DVD when season 5 was still airing.. often a whole season in a weekend or so. It was excruciating waiting for season 6, then season 6 "part 2".. I startled a whole Blockbuster video store with an involutary woop when I finally saw it on the shelf. What a delightful experience.

Thanks so much for this post: best way I could think of to spend 1/2 a work day.. and, as a result, I'm finally agreeable with the ending.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:54 PM on March 16, 2012


EmpressCallipygos; I actually was one of those extras for a few episodes and a stand-in for one of "dose guys." At the time I did look a little like I fit in, but I am in no way from a similar background. Craft service at Silvercup seemed especially good and a little authentic, and all of us hanging together was a real trip. On a fitting and casting day, I remember walking into the holding room and seeing over a hundred "goodfellas." Made me stop in my tracks. On another occasion, another stand-in gave me a card with a different person's name on it and his number written on it. He told me if I ever really needed a job, and wanted to work in the Bronx, give him a call. I later saw his picture (ultimately innocently actually) in The Post.
posted by Duck_Lips at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


^^^^^more stories like this one please Duck Lips
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess, on an episode-per-episode basis, The Sopranos probably had better writing than Breaking Bad. But I feel like Breaking Bad stands up to DVD-watching better than the Sopranos, because I feel like the writers are going somewhere with this.

For me I eventually lost interest in both shows; not that I don't think they're well-made (they are both fantastic), but in a series with antiheroes like Tony or Walt it can be difficult to avoid a point where viewers no longer sympathize with the protagonist(s). In Breaking Bad, the fly swatting episode really drove home for me that I don't really like Walt or Jesse anymore, quite suddenly. I'm not sure the exact point in the Sopranos where I decided I didn't like Tony or his cohorts anymore; I feel like it was a more gradual thing and probably intentionally so. But with Breaking Bad something just clicked at that point in the series: why am I watching a show about these two douchebags again?
posted by Hoopo at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2012


Is it really necessary to rank television shows?
posted by KokuRyu


We, The Internet, will someday get over this need to rank movies and TV shows, but it's going to take awhile.

Perfectly normal people who would never dream of saying "Picasso was a better painter than Van Gogh" will fiercely defend their view that the OBJECTIVELY TRUE ranking of TV shows is Sopranos > Wire > Deadwood > Breaking Bad/Boardwalk Empire (tie) > Mad Men > Twin Peaks > etc.

There's so many interesting things to say, both positive and negative about great works of art, ranking them is. . . wait, I was just about to rank the methods of talking about art.
posted by skewed at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2012


The thing, for me, that was so poignant about the Sopranos, and I was just talking about this with a fellow GreaterNYMetropolitanArea person recently, is that I knew at least two thirds of the 'people' in that cast. Not personally, but I think I knew one doppelgänger for each character. In this way it was show about New York/ New Jersey. It was a show about slightly post-immigrant America.

Yes, yes! That was what had me so entranced about this show--Livia was my battleax of a grandmother, Carmela was a dead ringer for my ex-stepmother, on and on and on, it was incredible! I could hardly follow the plot sometimes because I was so busy marveling over the uncanny little similarities in mannerisms, dress, speech, motivation, relationship dynamic, everything.
posted by HotToddy at 6:44 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Livia was very similar to my grandmother, who was not a pleasant person. It's interesting to think how violence and cruelty manages to regenerate from generation to generation.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:25 PM on March 16, 2012


Every time a discussion of groundbreaking TV shows comes up people forget about OZ.

Oz made The Sopranos possible.
posted by Mick at 3:07 PM on March 17, 2012


Perfectly normal people who would never dream of saying "Picasso was a better painter than Van Gogh" will fiercely defend their view that...

Perfectly normal people dream of saying say "Picasso was a better painter than Van Gogh", skewed. Humans like to compare, contrast, and rank things. Not all of us all the time, but we do it.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:43 PM on March 17, 2012


I've just noticed Vulture are doing a The Greatest TV Drama of the Past 25 Years thing... I've not had chance to really dig into them yet but this The Sopranos vs. The Shield one is interesting and made me re think the Sopranos ending. Again. Not sure The Shield should be so highly praised as for the most part merely just above average for most of time... though it did get to extraordinary in the last episodes.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:37 AM on March 18, 2012


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