Posts Tagged ‘The Sopranos’

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…

Monday Medley

What we read while putting away our hoodies and Skittles…

Saying Goodbye to Friday Night Lights

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose!

Well, Friday Night Lights has officially ended, and for good this time. FNL has had more shots at an ending than any show not named One Tree Hill. The show’s first and third season finales were both written as potential series finales before late renewals extended its life. And for those who watched the fifth season when it initially aired on DirecTV, the series ended back in February. Even the DVDs were released in April, but the show’s final run on NBC finished up last night. So, sadly, Friday Night Lights, one of the best series of the last decade, is over.

And for all the controversial endings to classic shows over the last few years—The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost, Battlestar Galactica—I’ve never been as upset watching a finale as I was watching the finale to Friday Night Lights.

The final image of the series was Eric and Tami Taylor walking off the football field. This was the perfect ending for the series… except that the football field was in Philadelphia, not Texas. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while wondering if the winners of the Lingerie Bowl play the winners of the Puppy Bowl…

Getting Lost: Season Six Thus Far

In the absence of a new Lost episode last night (ABC ran a rerun of “Ab Aeterno” instead), this week’s “Getting Lost” will look at where the show’s final season stands now:

Given the hype and anticipation for this season of Lost, has it lived up to the expectations? That, of course, is the big question. I think the obvious answer, at this point, is “No.” We still don’t know how the alternate timeline plots will ultimately resolve themselves into the main narrative, and this season has seen its share of dull episodes, like “What Kate Does,” “Dr. Linus,” and “The Package.”

But it’s probably unfair to judge the whole season as of yet. Lost has always been a show that has made its reputation primarily with premieres and finales. That’s not to say that character development doesn’t play a key role on the show, just that the show has made a habit out of sandwiching some dull episodes with strong beginnings and thrilling endings. Fans tend to forget this, but with the exception of Season Five (which I called one of the best television seasons of the Aughts), every single season of Lost has had a pretty noticeable slump in the middle.*

*Some people would probably object to the inclusion of Season Four, which was only 14 episodes, but I would say that episodes six (“The Other Woman”), seven (“Ji Yeon”), eight (“Meet Kevin Johnson”), and ten (“Something Nice Back Home”) were pretty forgettable. Continue reading

Lost Season Six and the Importance of The End

“It always ends the same.”

“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”

—Jacob and the unidentified Man In Black, from the Season Five finale of Lost

The sixth and final season of Lost kicks off tonight, in what is likely the most anticipated final season since at least the end of The Sopranos. It’s conceivable that Lost is actually more anticipated than The Sopranos final season. For one, more people watch Lost, since it’s on a network and not premium cable.

But it’s not simply the number of viewers the show has, it’s the type of viewership the show inspires: There are no passive Lost fans. You cannot just check in every few weeks to see where the characters are—you will be totally fucking confused. The show is so deeply enmeshed in mystery and ambiguity that missing any steps in the narrative will get you completely lost. This is also what makes the show so addicting. Continue reading

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

In Search of the Great College Drama

It seems an obvious question: How come no good television shows have been made about the American college experience? Tonight, NBC debuts Community, a hitherto critically regarded comedy about a diverse group of community college students—few of whom are actually of college age. By my count, it’s the third major television show set at a college, and the other two are Felicity and Undeclared, so you know how loosely I’m using “major.”*

*It’s very possible I’ve forgotten another show, but believe me, I thought about it for a long time.

While the college landscape has been neglected, there has been nothing short of a plethora of high school dramas. Beverly Hills 90210 appears to have started the trend, with shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, The O.C., One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, Veronica Mars, and Gossip Girl following suit. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been a number of comedies about 20-something singles, most notably Friends and How I Met Your Mother.

Continue reading