kottke.org posts about The Sopranos
In the late 70s, David Chase wrote a pair of episodes of The Rockford Files, a detective series on NBC. Those episodes were something of a prototype for The Sopranos, which Chase would create two decades later for HBO.
In Just a Coupla Guys, Tony the mob boss (Antony Ponzini) is a doting father who also happens to be a killer. Anthony Jr. (Doug Tobey) is a good kid acting up to get his dad's attention. Jean (Jennifer Rhodes) is the long-suffering mob wife, trapped in a suburban mansion. And Mr. Lombard (Gilbert Green), is an aging former boss who may or may not have lost his marbles. There's even a Catholic priest (Arch Johnson), although he's nowhere near as attractive as Father Phil, the clergyman who caught Carmela Soprano's eye.
Next month's Vanity Fair has a Saturday worthy longread, an oral history of The Sopranos. It's been about 5 years since the show ended, and for the most part, the major figures have not had much to say about it. There's nothing groundbreaking, but it's good if you were a fan.
JAMES GANDOLFINI: I'm still in love with Edie. And, of course, I love my wife, but I'm in love with Edie. I don't know if I'm in love with Carmela or Edie or both. I'm in love with her.
EDIE FALCO: It was weird to sit down at a table read with the actresses playing Tony's girlfriends. Occasionally I would get a sharp twinge at the back of my neck, because, especially if I'm tired, the emotional lines would bleed into each other and I'd have to kind of keep my bearings and remember, No, no, no, this is your job, and at home you have your life. Even years later, I remember when I saw Jim in God of Carnage on Broadway, and he was Marcia Gay Harden's husband, and I had this "How come I have to be O.K. with this?" kind of feeling.
On the response to the show.
TERENCE WINTER (writer, executive producer): One F.B.I. agent told us early on that on Monday morning they would get to the F.B.I. office and all the agents would talk about The Sopranos. Then they would listen to the wiretaps from that weekend, and it was all Mob guys talking about The Sopranos, having the same conversation about the show, but always from the flip side. We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn't believe how accurate the show was.
In a 1999 essay about The Sopranos written after its first season, Vincent Canby suggested that the show was an example of a relatively new form of television, the megamovie.
"Berlin Alexanderplatz," "The Singing Detective" and "The Sopranos" are something more than mini-series. Packed with characters and events of Dickensian dimension and color, their time and place observed with satiric exactitude, each has the kind of cohesive dramatic arc that defines a work complete unto itself. No matter what they are labeled or what they become, they are not open-ended series, or even mini-series.
They are megamovies.
That is, they are films on a scale imagined by the big-thinking, obsessive, fatally unrealistic Erich von Stroheim when, in 1924, he shot "Greed," virtually a page-by-page adaptation of Frank Norris's Zola-esque novel, "McTeague." Stroheim intended it to be an exemplar of cinematic realism.
Megamovies take television seriously as a medium. They have dramatic arcs that last longer than single episodes or seasons. Megamovies often explore themes and ideas relevant to contemporary society -- there's more going on than just the plot -- without resorting to very special episodes. Repeat viewing and close scrutiny is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the material and its themes. They're shot cinematically and utilize good actors. Plot details sprawl out over multiple episodes, with viewers sometimes having to wait weeks to fit what might have seemed a throwaway line into the larger narrative puzzle.
Episodes of these megamovies, Canby argued presciently, are best watched in bunches, so that the parts more easily make the whole in the viewer's mind. For many, bingeing on entire seasons on DVD or downloaded via iTunes has become the preferred way to watch these shows. If stamina and non-televisual responsibilities weren't an issue, it would be preferable to watch these shows in one sitting, as one does with a movie.
Since The Sopranos kick-started things in 1999, the megamovie has become a far more common occurrence on TV. Virginia Heffernan recently stated that the creators of nearly all hour-long dramatic series are aiming to make megamovies. I've collected a few examples of megamovies accompanied by their total running times below. The list is incomplete but represents several of the best-known and -appreciated megamovies out there.
The Sopranos, 81 hours 46 minutes
Lost*, 61 hours 59 minutes
Mad Men*, 18 hours 6 minutes
Six Feet Under 57 hours 45 minutes
Deadwood*, 36 hours
The Wire, 60 hours 45 minutes
The West Wing, 111 hours 56 minutes
For The West Wing, that's 4 days and 16 hours of continous watching. An asterisk marks megamovies that are as-yet incomplete. In the case of Deadwood, it's as if the film projector broke about halfway through the movie, only no one got their money back and eveyone left the theater pissed.
Update: In his review of the third episode of Mad Men this season, Andrew Johnston talks about the two dominant forms of TV drama and how The Sopranos and Mad Men fits in. (thx, stephen)
In case you're still hung up on the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos, there's this long self-proclaimed definitive explanation of "The End".
"If you look at the final episode really carefully, it's all there." These are David Chase's words regarding the finale of the Sopranos. He is right, it is "all there". This is the definitive explanation of why Tony died in Holsten's in the final scene of The Sopranos. The following is based on a thorough analysis of the final season of the show and will clear up one of the most misunderstood endings in film or television history. Chase took almost 2 years to construct the final season of the show after the fifth season ended in June of 2004. Part 1 will show how Chase directed, edited and scored the final scene of the Sopranos to lead to the interpretation that Tony was shot in the head in Holsten's and how this ties into the "never hear it happen" concept that Chase hammered into the viewer before the show's final scene.
(via house next door)
As rumored yesterday, the iTunes Store has added some HBO shows to their lineup. The initial offerings are the first seasons of The Wire, Flight of the Conchords, Rome, and Deadwood, as well as seasons 1 and 6 of the Sopranos and all of Sex in the City. Prices are between $2-3 per episode. (thx, dhrumil)
Long long but good good roundbrowser** discussion about which is the best TV drama ever: The Wire, Deadwood, or The Sopranos.
MZS: And I would be, frankly, stunned if, as great an actor as Ian McShane is, he ever did anything that was as demanding and as complex as what he did on Deadwood. Same thing for Gandolfini. And there are even smaller players I think that's true of as well. Molly Parker, you know, my God, look at all the things she got to do. When is she going to be able to do all those things again?
AS: A lot of that comes from the fact that these people were doing series, and now they're trying to move on to movies, and no movie part will ever be as complex as Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen or Bubbles.
MZS: Is that an inherent strength of the medium, then, as opposed to movies?
Obviously, there are spoilers here if you haven't seen all three shows in their entirety.
** A roundbrowser discussion is a roundtable discussion that takes place online. Ok, yeah, I didn't think it was all that clever either. Oh well.
Found while browsing HBO OnDemand last night: the first 4 episodes of The Sopranos and the entire season 3 of The Wire. Go nuts.
Michael Bierut on design lessons learned from The Sopranos. "On The Sopranos, interest in certain things, including but not limited to event planning, fashion design, literature, and certain psychological theories, are considered indications of effeminacy. A not unsimilar macho attitude often obtains in corporate boardrooms when it comes to design."
Today we once again get to hear the gospel straight from the source; Steve Jobs will be keynoting Apple's WWDC at 1pm ET. MacRumors, Mac Observer, and Engadget will have live coverage. My predictions: better .Mac, iPhone something, and Jobs will announce that Paulie's gonna whack Tony Soprano but not before Tony squeals to the Feds. Oh, and a pony.
Patrick Pittman makes a good case for Homicide: Life on the Streets being the best TV show ever. I loved Homicide and am convinced it would have found a great audience in this age of TiVo and quick-to-DVD (it was a difficult show to catch on Friday nights). Re: best TV ever, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and M*A*S*H have to be near the top of the list...what are your favorites?