Posts Tagged ‘David Chase’

Monday Medley

What we read while moving to Ecuador for the weather…

Mere Anachrony: The Sopranos Season One (RIP James Gandolfini)

In honor of James Gandolfini, who passed away at the age of 51, NPI is reposting its look back at the first season the show that made Gandolfini an icon.

sopranos

It’s been over two years, now, since The Sopranos ended its run on television with one of the most cryptic endings in television history, leading to weeks of debate over whether or not Tony was dead, who killed him, and why Meadow was such a bad parallel parker.

For many people, that ending is the most iconic image from the show; for some, it may be the only thing they remember of the show’s cultural impact. Unfortunately, that black screen is blocking a very rich history.

It’s easy to forget, but when The Sopranos premiered in 1999, it instantly became the best television drama of all-time (granted, this wasn’t as difficult of a crown to earn back then, since The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, etc. had all yet to air). It also resonated culturally in a way other great shows rarely do; it was almost instantly beloved by critics and viewers alike, at least partially because HBO allowed them to show violence, profanity and nudity.

Looking back on the first season of the show, it’s odd to think how “edgy” a lot of it was. Aside from cursing and sex, the show features a character who kills someone with his bare hands in the fifth episode (which HBO thought would render Tony unsympathetic to an audience), which now seems tame (this guy doesn’t even wait five scenes). The show uses psychiatry as a key feature of the narrative, which is commonplace now. And the show offers a frank approach to sexuality and drug use, which has become par for the course now as well.

And yet, none of the shows that have pushed the envelope farther has achieved the resonance that The Sopranos had. What made the show great wasn’t shock value— though it had plenty of that— but something much more substantive. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while the world ended and started up again…

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade’s Top Ten Seasons of Television

Yesterday’s overview of the television of the Aughts made the claim that this was the Golden Age of television. Well, here’s the proof. These are the ten best seasons of TV to air from 2000 to 2009. The criteria are simple: The season had to begin and end between January 1st, 2000 and today (that rules out Season Four of Friday Night Lights). Also, I have to have seen it. (A person can only watch so much TV, so with apologies to fans of Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Rome, The Shield, and Breaking Bad Season Two–all of which I have yet to watch–I cannot include these seasons.) Finally, the list is not limited to one season per show, but it is heavily weighted against a show’s second-best (and third-best, etc.) seasons; I didn’t want to just make a list of seasons of The Wire and The Sopranos, but depth deserves some credit. Even within those parameters, though, several very good shows could not make the cut. Here is the illustrious “Honorable Mention” category:

All seasons of The Wire and The Sopranos not already included, Lost Season Four (2008), Mad Men Season One (2007), Breaking Bad Season One (2008), Heroes Season One (2006-07), The West Wing Season Two (2000-01), Dexter Season One (2006), Firefly Season One (2002-03)

And now, the Top Ten:

Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Golden Age of Television

Probably the best illustration of television’s place in the culture at the beginning of this decade are the routes taken by its most prominent auteurs to the field.

David Chase, the creator, head writer, and executive producer of The Sopranos, settled for a career in television when he was unable to break into film; when Fox didn’t pick up the pilot, Chase planned to re-edit it and release the first episode as a film. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, was a screenwriter for plays and films; The West Wing was actually developed from unused plot elements from his script for 1995’s The American President. Joss Whedon, creator of cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and others, originally wrote Buffy as a film. Friday Night Lights, of course, was developed loosely from the film—and book—of the same name.

And, of course, David Simon and Ed Burns, the creative duo behind The Wire (as well as The Corner, Homicide, and Generation Kill) came directly from the subject matter they would be writing on: Simon as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Burns as a homicide detective, and later a school teacher, in Baltimore.

In short, good TV was something that seemed to happen by accident. Accidentally or not, though, the television produced during the Aughts was better than anything that came before it. Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Sopranos Season One

sopranos

It’s been over two years, now, since The Sopranos ended its run on television with one of the most cryptic endings in television history, leading to weeks of debate over whether or not Tony was dead, who killed him, and why Meadow was such a bad parallel parker.

For many people, that ending is the most iconic image from the show; for some, it may be the only thing they remember of the show’s cultural impact. Unfortunately, that black screen is blocking a very rich history.

It’s easy to forget, but when The Sopranos premiered in 1999, it instantly became the best television drama of all-time (granted, this wasn’t as difficult of a crown to earn back then, since The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, etc. had all yet to air). It also resonated culturally in a way other great shows rarely do; it was almost instantly beloved by critics and viewers alike, at least partially because HBO allowed them to show violence, profanity and nudity.

Looking back on the first season of the show, it’s odd to think how “edgy” a lot of it was. Aside from cursing and sex, the show features a character who kills someone with his bare hands in the fifth episode (which HBO thought would render Tony unsympathetic to an audience), which now seems tame (this guy doesn’t even wait five scenes). The show uses psychiatry as a key feature of the narrative, which is commonplace now. And the show offers a frank approach to sexuality and drug use, which has become par for the course now as well.

And yet, none of the shows that have pushed the envelope farther has achieved the resonance that The Sopranos had. What made the show great wasn’t shock value— though it had plenty of that— but something much more substantive. Continue reading