Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Sopranos

I haven't posted for a few days as I have been trying to work through a problem related to my impending paper at the International Communications Association conference in Montreal next week as I ready it to be sent to a refereed journal. I'll make a post on this at a later date.

In the meantime, one of my great guilty pleasures while being in the U.S. has been to catch up again on The Sopranos. Programming of the show on network TV in Australia was just awful, having to stay up after midnight for episodes run out of sequence, so having it in the U.S. (on A&E, not HBO) has been a great chance to think through one of the best TV shows of the 2000s, if not ever.

A&E run old episodes daily at 4pm (they are in Series 3 at the moment), repeats from series 6 at 10am on Sundays, and 'new' episodes from Series 6 at 10pm on Sunday (yes, I know they are not new, but I didn't see them the first time around). A disjointed way to watch the show, sure, but its not a novel, so you can dip in and out wherever you like. Also, as Steven Johnson has observed, the multi-thread narrative means that there is always something new to pick up on even in episodes you have seen before.

As The Sopranos has no doubt been endlessly analysed and blogged (see here for my favourite book on the show), I'll limit my comments to three things, other than James Gandolfini's ability to turn on a dime emotionally as Tony Soprano, as he moves in and out of otherwise disconnected situations.

  1. How work always intrudes on the domestic environment, and the domestic environment always finds it way into work. Whether it is the mob hits organised in the back garden after a birthday, wedding or funeral, or Tony advising his sister about her hot water system while awaiting a blow job in a private room at the Bada Bing, the semi-public sphere of mob business and the domestic sphere of wife, children, in-laws, relatives etc. are constantly overlapping, and a big part of Tony's life is spent trying to keep some structural separation between the two. His ongoing need for therapy to deal with his panic attacks is one outlet for the consequences of this.
  2. The use of violence as a weapon of first resort. The use of violence to solve problems is so much a part of the Soprano culture that everyone struggles to find a means other than violence to address a problem, even when it is known that the consequences of the violence will be greater than the problem they were seeking to address. The characters who are least well adjusted to the culture tend to bring the worst consequences to their actions - Tony' sister Janine, son A.J., the unfortunate Artie the chef, the truly appalling Ralphie, and - form time to time - Christopher Montefiore.
  3. The staggering gender double-standards. While women play a core role in The Sopranos as a show, the codes that they are expected to live by, and the extent to which these codes are completely over-ridden by the men in the show, are Patriarchy 101 in action.
Best line of Series 6 (so far): Tony to Paulie: "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" (about his management of the festival where his one-year-old nephew was almost injured on a faulty ride).

[Echoing George W. Bush's (in)famous observation about the Head of the Federal Emergency Management Authority during the Hurricane Katrina crisis in New Orleans.]

Runner-up: Christopher to Sir Ben Kingsley, trying to convince him to star in a movie that he is writing a script for: "To produce it, we're approaching Dick Wolf. He did Law and Order: The SUV."

1 comment:

Melissa said...

hi terry - i hope you get to see the end before you come home! it's amazing. so not a guilty pleasure!