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.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: It’s Bad… in a Great Way

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CXG) is my favorite current TV show. That might sound like much, given that we don’t have a TV, but please stay with me for a paragraph or two and perhaps a video.

The CXG is question is Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who leaves a successful career on the east coast to move to West Covina, California, the home town of a guy she had a summer camp fling with years ago. That makes it sound as though the show focuses on Rebecca and Josh Chen (the guy from camp). But it’s about Rebecca and her many relationships: with boyfriends, colleagues, etc., and most of all with herself.

One of the distinctive things about CXG is that, a couple of times an episode, a character or characters burst into song, often busting out dance moves. I’ll include a few examples. First, at the risk of spoiling: Rebecca realizes that she has invested in romantic/sexual relationships at the expense of other aspects of life.

That’s from season three, which I’m currently watching on Netflix. It looks as though there will be a fourth and last season. The plan from the start was for a four-season arc. The show changes a lot over the arc.

One of the changes was the departure of Santino Fontana, who played one of Rachel’s boyfriends. I think he was superb in the show. Here’s one of his big numbers.

While Rebecca does not lack for contact of various kinds with guys, perhaps the second most important character in the show is her friend Paula, played by Donna Lynne Champlin. Here’s my favorite of her numbers.

CXG reminds me of Breaking Bad, in at least two ways. First, each is great, and would be on any list of my favorite TV shows of all time. I particularly admire the writing, but I shouldn’t neglect other aspects of the show.. Second, each is an ensemble show with a great lead. Bryan Cranston was incredible in BB, but Rachel Bloom co-created, stars in, sings and dances in CXG, co-writes scripts and songs…

I am crazy about this show. How about you?

Black Mirror Season 4

Black Mirror is among my favorite TV shows ever: it’s up there with The X-Files, The Simpsons, and a few others. I’ve just watched season 4 of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Upon first watch, this is the weakest of the first four seasons. The writing just isn’t up the standard set by much of the first three seasons.

On a positive note, I watched all six episodes, and I regard it as six hours (or so) well spent. Each episode was very well done, in terms of performances, and thus probably in terms of casting and directing.

Here’s my current ranking of the episodes.

  • Best: Hang the DJ (episode 4). A clear winner. The best script of the season. I loved the chemistry between the leads.
  • Black Museum (episode 6). I suspect that Douglas Hodge’s riveting performance carried me over some flaws.
  • Arkangel (episode 2).
  • Callister and Metalhead (episodes 1 and 5 respectively). Possibly the two most different-from-each-other episodes of the season, which makes it hard to say which I preferred.
  • Crocodile (episode 3), a distant last, despite a good cast making the best of the script.

At most one of these episodes would make my “Best of Black Mirror” top ten. It’s not that the season was bad, it’s that it wasn’t Black Mirror great, or early X-Files great. Perhaps Black Mirror is one of those shows that should stop while it’s ahead, after a few (four?) seasons.

What did you think?

We don't need no stinking cable

I can’t cut the cable. I just can’t drop my subscription to cable TV! Why not? Because I’ve never had one. Neither have I ever had satellite TV.

So when I read something about cutting the cable (e.g., a recent post at RWW), I like it, but as a defensive measure against my family deciding that we need cable. And actually, adding TV to our Verizon phone/FiOS service wouldn’t be ruinous.

Right now, I expect to be able to get through my life without ever having subscribed to cable TV. We don’t even have a TV. I expect we’ll get one soon, but I don’t think we’ll need cable to get good content for it.

Bart Beats Balloon Boy

When I heard that balloon boy was safe, because he’d never been up the balloon in the first place, my first reaction was one of relief.

My second reaction was that this whole incident is uncannily similar to the Simpsons episode in which Bart seems to get stuck down a well. If you remember, Sting guest-starred as himself, contributing the song “We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well” to the apparently good cause of getting Bart out of the well down which he has fallen. Reaction 2.1 was that others must have noticed and written about the resemblance before me.

Indeed Phil Rosenthal, blogging at the Chicago Tribune, pretty much nailed it. He even included the very clip from the episode I’d have used.

At least I’m not as far behind Phil as balloon boy was behind Bart. I’m a day behind, BB was 17+ years behind Bart. The episode in question, “Radio Bart,” aired in January 1992. Its Wikipedia page provides further details, answering questions such as: on which 1951 movie is the plot based? who got the first shot at guest starring and declined, thus leaving the door open for Sting? how come the episode didn’t win an Emmy.

Converting to DTV

We’re now ready for digital TV. I just put in the Tivax STB-T8 Digital to Analog TV Converter Box we ordered from Amazon, using the government-supplied $40 coupon. The range of channels we can get hasn’t changed a lot: it remains pretty much what’s listed at Boston.com.

The two differences I’ve noticed so far are both positive. First, reception is better, much better for some channels. Second, we can now get multiple channels for some stations, notably WGBX. We’re still using the same rabbit ears as before. Your mileage may of course vary, depending on your location (we’re in Roslindale), rabbit or other receiving critter, converter box, etc.

That said, it seems likely that analog TV types will have an extra four months to get ready. It also seems that over 6 million consumers aren’t ready yet. That surprises me, given that the converter boxes seem to stock out frequently at Amazon and other online retailers. Maybe more people than expected are sticking with their analog TVs rather than buying a new digital TV.

Weather Again

Since my wintry words of yesterday, it has occurred to me that the few inches of snow we got in Boston really doesn’t qualify as a storm, yet is less snow than it took to shut down London.

I’ve also found some clips of a BBC show from 10 years ago: Songwriters Circle. Here is the Crowded House song “Weather With You” done by Neil Finn, backed by Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera) on lead acoustic guitar and Graham Gouldman (10cc).

Hulu Sort of Scores in the Superbowl

Hulu is a web site where you can watch TV shows, and some other content. It is free and ad-supported. It was one of the web success stories of 2008. Like many legal sources of content on the web, it violates the spirit of the “world wide web” by being unavailable to much of the world.

So Hulu, the web site where you can watch TV shows, ran a TV ad during the Superbowl. It was one of the more highly-rated Superbowl ads this year (sources for this include Fred Wilson), and so many people will want to see it.

Now, it would make sense for Hulu to make it easy for people to watch its ad. In fact, Hulu has a gallery of all the Superbowl ads. Perhaps it is to Hulu’s credit that its own ad doesn’t seem to be particularly prominent in the gallery. But that’s another way of saying that Hulu puts up barriers to its own ad.

So if you go to Hulu.com in order to watch the ad the web site paid to run on TV, you have to first watch… a regular ad. That’s if you are allowed to watch the Hulu ad. If you’re outside the Hulu zone, you won’t be able to watch the ad.

I know that there are contractual restrictions on making content available across borders. But it would make sense for Hulu to not impose such restrictions when the content is its own ad. You can see more at Erick’s TechCrunch post. The “more” includes the Hulu ad itself… but of course, people in the USA will see an ad before the ad, and most people outside the USA won’t see much of anything.

By the way, I think that the Hulu ad is pretty good. “They say TV will rot your brain. That’s absurd. TV only softens the brain, like a ripe banana” is one of Alec Baldwin’s better lines. The Superbowl itself wasn’t bad either.