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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

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