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Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Sopranos: First of Nine

As the opening credits rolled on The Sopranos' first of nine concluding episodes on HBO tonight, I was reminded about how much we owe to this show. Before The Sopranos, there was no Deadwood, The Wire, or Rome on HBO. No Dexter or Brotherhood or The Tudors on Showtime, either. For that matter, nothing like 24, or Lost at its best, on the networks, either.

The Sopranos changed all of that, and made television grow up. With The Sopranos, television entered a new golden age.

The Sopranos did that by doing just about everything different from what had been done before. Not just the obvious language, but the pacing, the characterization, the locales. Always surprising us with a twist from the mob stories and surbuban lives we had come to know.

And The Sopranos did that again, tonight.

An amazingly slow-motion story, like an oil painting come to life. It felt like 20 minutes of the story were on Tony and Carmela, Bobby and Janice, playing monopoly at Janice and Bobby's summer home up near Canada. Bobby doesn't like The Soprano change of rules (I'm with Bobby), everyone gets drunk, Bobby punches Tony, they fight ... and before the show is over, Bobby has killed someone for the first time in his life. No, not Tony, but some guy Tony has ordered Bobby to kill, to facilitate a deal Bobby has helped set up with some drug-dealing Canadians.

Now, in regular television, all of that could have taken five minutes.

Why so much longer tonight?

Because we only have nine - now eight - hours to go with this story, and we need to enjoy every minute of it.

So the tableau is set.

Is Tony really a new man after his close encounter with death last season? Maybe not - he is still ready to kill on behalf of good business, and he hasn't lost a beat in his genius of killing two birds with one stone. So he does the Canadians a favor, and sticks it to Bobby, at the same time.

But he's stuck with a nickle-and-diming gun charge from something that fell in the snow three years ago, and everything's seethingly unsettled with everyone else, just as it was last year.

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: Second of Nine, Third of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

Only Idiots Don't Watch Television my op-ed, originally published in Newsday, 26 July 2006, as TV's new golden age

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Episode..
I was born and raised in NJ and the way they played Monopoly IS the way most ppl played the game where all fines go to Free parking.. Did Bobby drop the gun in the hallway on purpose? Did he have hollow point bullets in the gun? be cuz the wound sure looked like it...

Paul Levinson said...

Ha - thanks for the good comment - that's not the way monopoly was played in the The Bronx, where I grew up...

Good questions about Bobby. I was also a little concerned that he left a piece of his shirt with the guy.

Zach said...

It sure looked like Bobby dropped the gun on purpose! Just like Gene, when he shot that guy in the fast-food restaurant, except Gene had the sense to wear gloves. Maybe Bobby figures his prints aren't in the system north of the border?

I like the oil-painting analogy. Definitely an Impressionist's episode, but Manet or Monet? That is, are the nature images that appeared tonight to be taken discreetly (e.g., Tony says the fish are jumping = dead characters will make a comeback) or as brush strokes on a canvas that can only be viewed holisticly?

And was anyone else disappointed that we didn't get to see more of AJ's house party? Given his event-hosting experience and one-time aspirations for a career party planning, I bet it was rocking.

Paul Levinson said...

Welcome to Infinite Regress, Zach!

I would have to go with Manet's Fish and Oyster - you can't beat the relevance of the subject matter - even though I prefer Monet's paintings overall (both in general, and in relation to the holistic Sopranos...)

I think Bobby did drop the gun on purpose - isn't that also the advice given to Michael in Godfather I? And I thought, maybe, that Bobby did have gloves on.

Yeah about AJ's house party ... but I doubt it would have equalled Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business (Joe Pantoliano was in that movie too!)

fellow-ette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fellow-ette said...

what I meant...

Like the Soprano sibs, the Seltzer clan, originally from Verona NJ, definitely hit it up the FREE PARKING WAY. Joisey style. You gotta problem with that?

m. twist said...

Paul, WORD on the Michael Corleone reference. I was about to mention that. I think dropping the gun is standard operating procedure in these situations.

There was a LOT of talk about fish and a LOT of scenes on the water -- all of which spells doom for the characters. Remember last season when Tony and Carm were eating all that sushi? BLAM! Bossman gets it in the stomach. On 'Sops,' you gotta keep it kosher -- and that means avoiding treyf de la mer.

Paul Levinson said...

fellow-ette & m.twist ... good to see ya on the premises of infinite regress!

fellow-ette: no prob - I just like things da Bronx way ... but do give my bests to GP Gil... (he is indeed a gentleman from Verona, to rival Shakespeare's...)

m.twist - good point about sushi! i love it, but maybe the Sops should stick with herring (however, gefilte fish I wouldn't wish on anyone, including me...)

bernie said...

Hey, I like gefilte fish, which of course isn't a fish, just like there is no such thing as a sardine.

Anyway, I linked to your article from
Soprano Home Movies - Episode 78

Paul Levinson said...

Thanks, Bernie - wild site you got there!

Meanwhile, the reason I don't like gefilte fish is precisely because it's a concocted fish ... but my wife loves it!

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