Sopranos Second Season

Superb Sopranos Second Season: Bad For Binging. That was almost the title of this post, but it’s better as the TLDR.

The show is superb, as many have said before. It’s bad for binging because it’s annoying in excessive doses. By that I of course mean that it annoyed me.

In a sense, it’s meant to be annoying. Most of the main characters are preening man-children. It’s in some ways a compliment to the show and to the acting that most of the characters are annoying. It’s an even bigger compliment to James Gandolfini that I still enjoyed his performance, even though he’s the main man-child.

The biggest disappointment of the season concerns Christopher, who is shot, and whose life is in danger. The disappointment is that the whining little narcissist survives. This is not a criticism of Michael Imperioli, who is all too convincing as Chris.

There are a couple of characters who are a lot more annoying than they need to be. One is Silvio: I’m not sure that Steven Van Zandt is an actor. The other is Dr Melfi. I’m sure that Lorraine Bracco can act. What I’m not sure about is that robotic bleat of a voice, which I find almost unbearable.

Again, the show is great. The way it evokes the world and the life, the dialog, most of the performances…

I will watch seasons 3-6. I just won’t binge them.

The Sopranos: More on Season One

I previously discussed three aspects of The Sopranos, based on my decades-late watching of the first season. I want to discuss two more aspects: one that I know will change through the seasons, the other that I am sure will not change.

Let’s start with the constant: food. In this world, if you arrive somewhere, you bring food, if someone visits you, you offer food, if you’re meeting, there will be eating… And what better place to whack someone than a restaurant, as when Junior decides that the best place to kill “Little Pussy” is the restaurant run by Artie, one of Tony’s oldest friends.

What will change is technology, particularly communication technology. In the first season, a telephone is something with a cable connecting it to a wall, or to a phone box. In the first episode of the second season, we see a relatively slim cellphone.

I’ll be back soon with comments on the second season. Is it as good as the first?

The Sopranos

Has it taken me more than 20 years to watch the greatest TV show of all time? Maybe: I’ve only watched the first season of The Sopranos. Now, in December 2021, it’ll be hard to find anything new to say about the show.

I’ll discuss various aspects of the show, putting each aspect in the contexts of time and of other highly-praised shows.

First, it’s more like the movies than the TV of its time (late 1990s in to the 2000s) in terms of cinematography, production values, and so on. In this, it reminds me of an earlier show: The X-Files. In some ways, each episode is more like a (half-length) movie than it is like an episode of a TV show. These shows have established a tradition: for example, each episode of Breaking Bad is like a well-produced movie.

Second, let’s consider the question: is this a show about its central character, or about an ensemble? My favorite answer to this question is: yes! Tony Soprano is of course the central character, superbly played by James Gandolfini, and his role is surrounded and enhanced by many other well-written and well-performed roles: his wife, his uncle Junior,… (I am yet to be as impressed by his psychotherapist, Dr Melfi, but that’s for another post, after watching more seasons.)

My favorite example of a central/ensemble show is Breaking Bad. Brian Cranston’s performance as Walter White deserves mention the same breath as James Gandolfini’s as Tony. The ensemble around Walter is similarly impressive. The Breaking Bad team have been effusive about their debt to The Sopranos. You can do central/ensemble well without live action: take a bow, Bojack Horseman!

Third, let’s recognize that the show deals in stereotypes. It’s about Italian-American mobsters who know and love The Godfather and similar movies. A Jewish character, Hesh, can be considered part of the ensemble. A rapper, Massive Genius, is central to episode 10 of the season; he has a collection of people and weapons as stereotypical as it is striking. MG demands that Hesh pay what he owes to the families of African-American musicians he used to manage.

So, the Sopranos is stereotype soup. I think it’s a very well-made stereotype soup. I wonder if it could be made as well, or in the same way, in the “woke” 2020s.

Talking of soup, food is prominent and vital in the Sopranos… but that, along with technology, belongs in another post. This one is long enough already. Thanks for reading this far.