Monday, June 11, 2007

Coming To Terms - On The Sopranos Finale, and Beliving the Sopranos is Overrated

[This blog post is part 2 of a 3-part series. Go here for part 1 about "24"]

In Hans Christen Andersen’s fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the emperor’s subjects and the townspeople are all terrified of telling the emperor that he’s actually wearing no clothes, for fear of appearing stupid (or perhaps, of being summarily executed). It finally takes a child to point out, “he’s wearing no clothes!” before people finally snap out of their delusional trance.

As people who read this blog know, I can be quite a child sometimes. And today, I’m going to try to be just that.

Despite the fact that I’m driving across the country, I still had a chance to stop off and catch the Sopranos Series Finale this Sunday night. It’s a compelling show that I’ve committed to watching, even if I’ve been disparaging of it in the past.

My views on the Sopranos have been made clear for some time. While I can rehearse the oft-repeated sentiment that “The Sopranos” is better than 99% of what’s on television (and I do believe this to be true), I still think that “The Sopranos” is overrated and is NOT one of the greatest dramas of all time (that honor would belong to a show like “The Wire”). Last night’s episode did nothing to change my mind.

To be fair, this season has been pretty great, with some tremendous performances by all the lead actors. In particular, James Gandolfini’s therapy sessions have been deeper and more textured than before, revealing to us not just the depths of Tony Soprano but the depth of Gandolfini’s acting ability.

For the series finale, there was no way that they were going to be able to tie up all the loose ends in the series in one episode. And sure enough, they didn’t even come close. Paulie is given a few reflective moments with Tony. Junior remains submerged in his mental illness. Janice keeps doing what she’s doing. Meadow seems destined for the same fate as her mom, and AJ’s newly found apathy is strikingly familiar. Melfi’s 180 turnaround regarding therapy that happened OVER THE COURSE OF ONE EPISODE seemed to continue unabated. And that was it.

Leaving open plotlines and open questions is fine when it all serves the storytelling. But the way in which “The Sopranos” does it often appears clumsy. Think of the structure of the entire series: One or two bad apples is whacked every season, until the final season when a whole ton of killing and random deaths occur. To me, it felt as though Chase suddenly realized he was running out of time and had to kill off a whole lot of characters; that is, the deaths did not feel organic to the storyline (particularly Christopher’s). Yet when it finally came to do the final deed (i.e. do away with Tony Soprano), Chase left the issue delightfully unresolved.

“The Sopranos” direction and acting have always been phenomenal. The cinematography has always wowed me. But this is not a show that displays the masterful storytelling found elsewhere. It is self-indulgent, wildly uneven, and most annoyingly of all, grossly overrated. No one is willing to call the finale and most of the series crap, because no one wants to look like a moron. As I’ve demonstrated time and time again, this is not a fear that I possess.

So to all those who ever watched "The Sopranos" and thought to yourself, "Why do people think this show is so good?" my only encouragement to you all is that you're right. And while it may be light years ahead of a great deal of everything else on TV, that doesn't mean it merits the preposterous accolades that have been heaped upon it.

Despite all of this, the final scene…unforgettable. A ultra-tense scene with pitch-perfect music that dared to subvert all expectations that rabid fans of the show had going in. Rather than get frustrated with this ending, I thought it was incredibly well-done, the perfect conclusion to the television series that, frustratingly and unskillfully, never resolves anything.

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