Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Extra-Large Sopranos Post

It took me about five years to get into the Sopranos....from the time I knew of its existence in 2000, to late 2005 when I decided, "hey, I'll watch a few episodes since Comcast is showing all of their episodes On Demand". For the record, I've since cancelled Comcast and hate most cable shows these days - Nip/Tuck & The Shield are two exceptions.

When I finally started watching the show, tearing through On Demand episodes like they were going to disappear into thin air - in all fairness, each season was only On Demand for two weeks or so at a time - I realized what all the hullabaloo was about. (Yes, I went there - I used hullabaloo.)

A bit of background is necessary as to why I ignored the show for so long: I grew up in an Italian-American family; that much should be obvious by now. We were hot-headed, a bit crazy at times...who am I kidding; sometimes we went after each other with knives like Hannibal Lecter looking for his next appetizer. In fact, I think that happened last week. Even though myself & one of my siblings have moved out, the house in which we grew up is still the epicentre for most of the stress & knife-fights in our lives.

So forget that past tense crap - we ARE crazy, we ARE hot-headed. We do embarrass the hell out of ourselves and each other, whether it's in public or at some one's house. We do talk about people behind their backs, we do have serious family issues, we do have one or two aunts and/or uncles that could very well be considered certifiably insane - but we're too afraid to turn them over to the authorities because of what those authorities might think of, or do, to us.

That said, I always felt my family and Italian friends carried ourselves with a certain amount of class, dignity, and pride...most of the time. My father, for example, is one of the most intelligent and well-rounded men I've ever met; my mother is not only intelligent but has done her very best to make a nice home for everyone who walks in. The woman just can't do any better at welcoming people into her home and being a class act to any guests she has. I've been to a Midwestern home in the middle of Wisconsin for the holidays and been treated very well - and I still feel my Sicilian mother has all that 'heartland' crap beat by a mile when it comes to food, atmosphere, personality, and treatment of family & guests. You just can't do a better job - in short, I've been extremely lucky.

I've been told by people that I have classic, and very good, taste (likely due to my siblings, and that I've also been told by more than one person). I don't wear huge gold emblems around my neck, I don't have an Italian sticker on my car (OK, some of you are laughing about what I have IN my car, but let's keep that an inside joke). Maybe I have a bit of a fetish for certain things that could be considered "Guido" - the color black, for instance; nice-looking shoes; and if I had the build of a soccer player I'm pretty sure I would buy an entire outfit - cleats, shin-guards, and all - from, and dress up like Fabio Cannavaro for every single casual Friday here at the office.

The point here, is that us Boston-area Italians don't relate well to New Jersey and that whole "tacky" Italian crowd. I was relieved when Chase decided to highlight those differences in Season 3 when Tony went to Italy with Paulie & Silvio, only to find out that those tacky Jersey Italians were out of place around the Napoletani. There are plenty of Guidos and tacky Italians here in the Boston area, of course; Boston has more Italian-Americans than most people realize, because the city is more known for its Irish inhabitants - but even Martin Scorsese only mentioned Italians in passing at the very beginning of The Departed.

I thought of the Sopranos as candy for the American public to devour each week, so they could keep on believing that middle-aged Italian men really acted the way Gandolfini, Van Zandt, et al acted on screen. Once I got past my own issues with the Italian-American element of the show - and learned that one of the main writers of the show is actually from East Boston and that the show was originally supposed to take place in Providence - I figured, what the hell, I'll give it a shot.

It turned out to be one of the best shows I've ever seen, but I always kept in mind that most people were probably sitting there, believing that Carmella must be your typical Italian-American Princess wife. In reality, despite what the viewers thought about all that, Chase was a genius at not only character development, but character consistency. For example, even though we always kept rooting for AJ, deep down we knew that he would never really change, that he was the Fredo of the family, and Chase was true to that character. He was also true to Tony when he had Tony kill Christopher out of apparent mercy toward the end of Season 6. But that's the great thing about the show & its characters - Tony is a sociopath, saw the tree branches cutting through the empty baby seat after that car accident with Chris in Season 6, imagining what would have happened had Chris' baby been in there, and decided right then it was time for Christopher to go. Tony had just been in a car accident with Chris due to Chris, the driver, being high...knowing that, but still being rattled by it, rattled by an injury, and wanting his nephew to survive should have been enough for him to at least stay on the phone with 911. Instead, he saw those tree branches cutting through the empty baby seat in the back, folded his phone up calmly, and made a wonderfully typical Tony Soprano move by suffocating a motionless & barely breathing Christopher, in a supposed 'mercy kill'. It was very appropriate for Tony to be the direct cause of Christopher's death in circumstances so fitting - Christopher being high, Tony almost dying for a SECOND time and knowing Christopher was to blame for it, and all the history between the two characters. He killed Christopher - out of mercy. Or was it?

Season 6, as much as I hated it at times, was a great season about death - particularly the last few episodes. The feel of the show was highlighted by a looming villain in the excellent Frank Vincent, and scenes were shot with plenty of gray texture and feel - AJ sitting on the diving board of the pool, about to throw himself in during a suicide attempt on a cloudy day; Tony eating the deadly orange in the last episode with a black coat on; the entire family wearing black clothes in the last episode; the eerily religious mural on the wall with some orange mixed in (there's that color again) at the restaurant during the final scene. Even the fact that they went into hiding at a house near the beach, which represented the broken Soprano family - Tony nearly bought a beach house for himself & his family on the Jersey shore at the end of Season 4, but him and Carmella split for Season 5 and he had to back out of the deal.

Good or bad, the point here is that it's just television, and we should be grateful for the fact that we got as much entertainment out of it as we did for so long. I'm reminded of a commercial for the new Dennis Miller series starting November 4th on Fox, when he talks about professional sports and all of the horrible things going on that we conveniently ignore for the sake of our own ignorance & entertainment: "When are we going to finally turn away, folks?", he asks. When, indeed - if people can really write for days on end about Barry Bonds instead of simply ignoring him and his outrageous, cheating feat, maybe that would shift the attitude of the people in this country around just enough so that we would turn our attention to the things that really matter. Like politics, for instance, which has become a disgusting, perverted joke.

Sounded like another silly tangent, didn't it? You've been punk'd - it was, in fact, a perfect segue into my favorite David Chase interview quote. The link to the rest of the interview is below. As much as I hated David Chase for the mediocre last two seasons of the show, you can't blame a guy for taking the millions that were waved in front of his face to keep churning out episode after episode. You CAN blame him for the terrible finale, but please, try to put things in perspective as he does here:

EW: Did you expect people to be so pissed off?
DC: We didn't expect them to be that pissed for that long. It's one thing to be deeply involved with a television show. It's another to be so involved that all you do is sit on a couch and watch it. It seemed that those people were just looking for an excuse to be pissed off. There was a war going on that week and attempted terror attacks in London. But these people were talking about onion rings.,,20152845,00.htm

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