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Thursday, 07 June
Fat Lady, About To Sing

Note: This blog entry contains mild spoilers about The Sopranos. Don't read if that's going to bother you.

This coming Sunday evening, HBO will be airing the final episode ever of its landmark dramatic series The Sopranos. This event is momentous enough that the wife and I have made plans to travel to her brother's place to watch the thing with him and his wife. They are, of course, making lasagna. We've decided to take this all in together, for we are, obviously, utterly devoted to this brilliant, often maddening television show. We're all in agreement that nobody will fucking talk during the show, something we've experienced before when watching this show with nonwatchers who ask unwelcome questions. The phone will be turned off, just in case.

Back when I was obsessed with The X-Files, in the middle set of seasons when it was awesome and long before Robert Patrick and that other broad came along to ruin everything, I remember watching the show with the uninitiated or simple half-ass fans. They were intolerable. "So you gotta stab those weirdmouth guys in the back of the neck?" SHUT UP SHUT UP I'M WATCHING HERE SHUT UP

We won't have these problems come Sunday. We will watch the final episode as if sealed inside a large thermos. I believe the wife's brother has sworn to murder the dogs mid-show if they start making a ruckus from their imprisonment inside the garage.

The Sopranos is, as everyone knows, one of the most lauded shows in television history; some make the claim that it's the finest TV drama ever made. I don't know if I'm ready to go to bat on that one, but I'd sure rank it way the hell up there. (For one thing, there's that other HBO fan favorite, the unjustifiably maltreated Deadwood, which was a practically Jacobean take on the American western.)

There's been the writing, of course, which is routinely splendid, intelligent and knowing, whether it be something like Christopher unexpectedly spouting Bruce Springsteen lyrics to an annoyed Tony, or the utterly perfect description of Richie Aprile's eyes as "Manson lamps," or, most recently, the gorgeously crass joke of a storefront sign that read "Flatbush Bikini Waxing."

This is not to say that the writers have been perfect. The Sopranos is in fact famous for its litter of abandoned storylines, many of them dumped unceremoniously on the streets like little blind Gorey waifs. Famous ones include things like the otherwise ridiculously great Pine Barrens arc--apparently that indestructible Russian mobster is still lost in the woods, eating bark, unless he horrifyingly pops up in the final episode to stick a fork into Paulie's ear, which, if it happens, should surprise nobody. Or maybe they could revisit the Adriana/rap impresario storyline, which irritated Christopher so much that, later, he hilariously retaliated by crushing her dog to death by sitting on it. (I'm only sort of lying. He didn't vengefully crush her dog; he was just stoned out of his mind. But it really was hilarious.) More recently, there was the extremely bizarre amount of time detailing the doomed, gay Vito, which left many viewers wondering if they had accidentally tuned into a different show.

What is rather perfect about the show, though, is the acting. I don't know quite why, really--none of these people save two are what I'd call amazing outside of the context of the show (more on the outliers in a minute); it just seems that the show has caught these people at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. As a whole, they are amazing--but then you see something like Gandolfini in things like True Romance or Crimson Tide, and you're like, "What's the big deal?"

But Gandolfini is a big deal, at least for this show. He is terrifying, mostly when he's not doing anything, but simply thinking about doing something. He has never once on the show hit Carmela, for example . . . but I can describe for you in detail the times he has come close. And I'm pretty sure I'm never going to forget the number he pulled on Meadow when she mouthed off to him about being "the big mob boss."

But here's my half-assed theory regarding ensemble pieces: everything hangs on the secondary characters. Without those guys, everything else just withers. And, against all odds, The Sopranos delivers the goods practically every time. There's Silvio, Steven Van Zandt's utterly singular creation, Tony's consigliere, whose very posture seems to suggest that he spends most of his life wadded up in someone's pocket. There's Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts, who, disturbingly, might actually think he's a genuine gangster if some of his police reports suggests, but Paulie's unfailing need to make himself the center of any single event in the universe is readily identifiable--and is what makes him such a natural foil for Michael Imperioli's Christopher, who evidently feels just the opposite, and which is why he drugs himself up at every possibility. And then there's Robert Iler as A.J., Tony's son. Iler is either preternaturally gifted at playing an utterly loathsome, unsympathetic fuckup--in which case I applaud him--or he is a preternaturally depressing actual fuckup, in which case I would like to kill him. I will be charitable and assume it's the former.

There is also Jamie Lynn-Sigler, who is a very pretty girl.

Oh, there's millions of others--this is a show that's gone on for seven seasons, after all--but there are really just two left to talk about.

Edie Falco plays Tony's wife Carmela, and for me, she's the linchpin of the entire series. Not Tony. It's through her reactions to Tony that sets everything in motion, I think (I'm taking some liberties here). Leave aside the obvious blast that the costumers, makeup artists and hairstylists have with Ms. Falco. She's the heart of the family, and she's the heart of the show, even when she's selling out everything she believes in to buy a spec house. Falco is ridiculously terrific, and this show would have died in a ditch without her.

And finally, the lost and lamented Nancy Marchand, who played Tony's incredible black hole of a loving mother figure Livia. Marchand--a veteran screen actor, who, like Falco appeared reliably in crime dramas like Law & Order--managed to out-Macbeth's wife with Livia, a character so utterly corrosive that Tony--the mob boss--and his wife, Carmela--no shrinking violet herself--were apparently totally powerless to even step up to. True to the spirit of the series, though, Livia was--again, Marchand needs a lot of credit here--fucking hysterical. The wife and I are still fond of saying to one another in times of strife, "Oh, someone just open a window and push me out!" I will never in my life forget the scene in the hospital when Gandolfini is chasing her down the hall while she's strapped to a gurney, and she's smiling at him, and Gandolfini screams, "She's smiling! You see what she is? She's smiling!"

Christ. I could go on and on. I have gone on and on. I'm really going to miss this show. I'll miss the common language that I used to have with friends and family when it goes. I don't want to sound like a "Well, I know better than you because . . . " kind of dick, but I think it's telling that most of our friends--who are nearly all actors--all adore this show. I do think it's extraordinary as a TV drama, that very marginalized art form.

But as has been said so many times: If this isn't art, then what is?

And if you disagree with me, then I'm just going to shoot you. Which is fine. What won't be so great is when I start dreaming of fish.

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


Thank you and Amen. I'm relieved to know I wasn't the only who refused to answer the phone when Scully and Mulder were on.

Now that I've 'fessed up to that geekitude, I guess I should go hide those pictures from Halloween '98 where I was dressed as Scully and handcuffed to Rollergirl...

Comment number: 014158   Posted by: myra on June 8, 2007 06:18 AM from IP:

You're spot-on about Edie Falco.

Comment number: 014159   Posted by: Leonard on June 8, 2007 07:01 AM from IP:

I have never really seen the Soprano's because I don't have HBO, but I'd like to add Six Feet Under to the list of top notch tv. My only credential for this is that I never watch tv programs, but will watch the hell out of this.

Comment number: 014161   Posted by: Alyxmyself on June 8, 2007 05:42 PM from IP:

Wow, what a great send off, thanks!

Comment number: 014162   Posted by: Gail on June 8, 2007 08:05 PM from IP:

I'm sofa king mad about that last episode. ugh.

Comment number: 014174   Posted by: ombra on June 11, 2007 04:45 AM from IP:

"I'm sofa king mad about that last episode. ugh."

why? I thought it was the perfect ending, tony surrounded by his family and then the callback to how you never see the end just goes black.

Comment number: 014175   Posted by: on June 11, 2007 08:52 AM from IP:

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