Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Must they all jump the shark? (Sopranos included?)

The Sopranos has always had so much going for it that other shows haven’t. Sure, it’s an HBO original series, and as such, can afford its fair share violence, language and sexuality. But these things aren’t what has made the Sopranos such a stand out series. The Sopranos has always managed the paradox of taking itself very seriously, while having the capacity to see humor in itself. It’s blend of drama and comedy succeeds because it exists in a world that (though built on certain stereotypes) feels 100% authentic and convincing. These characters reside in a mafia fantasy world, where the rules of living and working are completely foreign to us. But in spite of this, we are able to relate to it, to see the layers in it, because we come to know and love the characters so much. We buy into their actions and motivations, their hopes and their dreams. Who could a more unlikely hero than Anthony Soprano? And yet where is there a more layered, relatable, likeable character on Television? He is the dark horse everyman (and woman), struggling through the pitfalls of day to day life, that are rife with family, friends, work and obligation.

The Sopranos shows us criminals, men who have killed in cold blood, and yet makes us root for them, hoping they overcome their strife and stay out of prison, even though we know on some level we know they should be paying heavily for their sins. The richness of relationship these characters share with one another is what creates such a solid foundation for the show. Anthony and Carmella’s complex marriage, Anthony’s paternalistic and at times antagonistic mentorship of Christopher, Paulie and Christopher’s rivalry, and on and on. Each dynamic has its own bit of comedy and tragedy, with history that now goes back five, six seasons.

Though I can’t recall the interview or place that this factoid came from, it seems to be common knowledge among fans that, originally, David Chase, the creator of the Sopranos, had a four season arc for the show. However, the show was SO successful that the inevitable happened. When HBO realized just how much money and popularity they held in their hands, they wanted to extend the Sopranos glory, so in rolled the idea to extend the show two extra seasons, with a complete season five, and a two part season six. I think ultimately the show has suffered for it.

One can always make the argument that no matter what, a weak Sopranos episode is head and shoulders above “everything else on Television”, and to a certain extent that may be true. No matter what, the production value and acting are generally flawless. BUT, that doesn’t mean it’s any less frustrating as a fan of the show when a “watered down” episode comes along, where not much happens, and the resolution of larger storylines are postponed or even forgotten. I’ve heard some folk talk that they think the “water down” trend began very subtlely in season four, and while there might have been an episode or two I wasn’t crazy about, things didn’t really start to wane for me until season five.

This season, for the first time, I have been watching the new sixth season week to week as it airs on HBO. Normally, I watch the entire season over the span of a week or less, gorging myself on three or four episodes at a time. Maybe it’s my new viewing style, or maybe it’s my faded memory of the fifth season, but whatever the case may be, I find myself loosing patience quickly. The season premiere was interesting, no question. It was undoubtedly shocking when the member of Tony’s crew who wanted to move to Miami, ended up killing himself. Especially since if followed an episode’s worth of build up on the subject of him potentially doing something drastic to make his move happen. Some found this old “switcheroo” to be brillant, regardless of whether or not it ends up coming back in the season. But it’s my feeling, that if this suicide does not play out somehow before the show is over, it will have been a complete waste of time.

Junior shooting Tony was huge –it completed the one-two punch, (first the suicide, then Junior’s crazed behavior) of the episode. If it’s one thing the Sopranos has always been able to make me do is to gasp out loud, and I did so twice that night. But I haven’t been crazy about the direction the show has been going in since then, i.e. the last two episodes. While putting Tony in the hospital was a bold and daring move, and his dream world had some interesting elements, these scenes began to drag and become tiresome. The second episode, which comprised, of basically just Tony wandering around a bizarro LA, and his family members crying and talking to him at his bedside, felt decidedly UNSopranos. While moving at times, it also bordered on sentimentality, and I found Kevin Finnerty and his briefcase to be heavy handed. I liked that Tony’s real life pierced the hallucinatory coma, like the fact that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (Junior’s disease), and the obvious issue of confusion his identity and his future (I’m 46 years old, where am I going in my life?). But it just kept going on and on. Yes we get, Tony has lost his way in some bizarro spirit world, and he doesn’t know who he is. Overall the scenes with Tony in his coma/dreamscape felt stifled, and drawn out.

In this Sunday’s episode, I was fascinated by how quickly his underlings and “friends” were eager to move in for the kill, and push him and his family out of the way. It was intriguing to see what happened in the wake of this newly formed power vaccum. I also liked the idea of Carmella going to Dr. Melfi instead of Tony –though it’s unclear how long that might last. But even with these pieces of new intrigue, I couldn’t help but feel that the episode dragged. It’s difficult to put my finger on, there wasn’t one particular thing that I found egregious, it was more of an overall feel. And just when I thought things finally were starting to get interesting, Tony wakes up, and it would appear that things start to go back to mob business as usual.

Which begs to ask the question, has The Sopranos jumped the shark? I think the answer is yes. As excited as I am to see it back on the air, I do think it has run its course a bit. I’m not sure what else they have left to do and where else they have to go. For all our sakes I hope I am wrong. Is it an inevitability that all shows, even those that don’t deal with the politics of network televsision decline before their finally taken off the air? It’s a question I know I’ve asked before. But it’s sad to see that even the sweetest of things can grow a little sour. Oh but it’s still head and shoulders above ANYTHING else on TV, my detractors might say. Yeah, …but it still used to be better.


Anonymous crazymonk said...

Dunno, I'm with the 'it jumped the shark in season 4' crowd, although I still enjoy watching the show. I expect this season to really pick up with Tony up and walking again.

Have you watched Deadwood or The Wire yet? Those are the two best and consistent shows on HBO so far.

3:49 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know, I know, I need to see both Deadwood and The Wire. Sadly since I don't have HBO, I will have to scrounge for the DVD sets...

4:41 PM  
Blogger DoorFrame said...

The show was written with a ONE season arc... then stretched to four, then to six.

Ignoring how much of a jerk it makes me sound like, no part of the show has compared to the first season. Everything after that season has been watered down.

9:56 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Come on second and third season were amazing --you'r looney.

Didn't know that about the one season arc though. That's interesting.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous crazymonk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:43 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Uh, I've got one thank you very much.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous crazymonk said...

I agree with new yorker -- the second and third seasons are great, even though not quite as great as the first.

Also, how hard would it be to order Wire via netflix or to rent it at your local store? Get yo' act together!

1:13 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know, I hang my head in shame...I should rent them...

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Staying Alive Fan said...

but what does any of this have to do with the original ending to SLIVER?

8:28 PM  
Blogger The Moviequill said...

what we need is a major character rubbed out (heh), shock our system... I choose Janice

5:35 AM  
Blogger DoorFrame said...

I really thought they were going to keep Tony in a coma all season. That would have been gallsy and great.

Can I use gallsy? I just made that up.

10:46 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I like gallsy. And yes, a season long coma would have been great...

10:10 AM  
Blogger Daddy Background said...

I had the same thought. The whole sixth season would be watching Tony die slowly. That would have been ... creatively challenging and very different. Hopefully very interesting.

But no.

It looks like they are still in "set up" mode, building toward the final payoff, having now established what looks what might become a "kinder and gentler" Tony. Talk about your inappropriate skill sets. So - season six will be tests of loyalty, New Jersey versus New York in a final showdown and Tony's failed redemption (???).

I said that if I were ever to meet the actor who plays Janice I would laud her shamelessly on her skill as an actor because she has made me hate her SO MUCH.

6:32 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know, that would have been an interesting route to go. As curious as I am to see an out and out war between NJ and NY, I just hope that things start to get crackin' sooner rather than later. I found this Sunday's episode to be nearly unbearably boring.

10:31 AM  

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