Monday, April 09, 2007

Douthat on The Sopranos

Heresy time: I liked the first season of The Sopranos quite a lot. It was good stuff. But it didn't capture my interest enough to stick around for the second season--and if the first season is a fair measure of the show's quality, then it may be the most over-praised series of our time. (Of course, maybe the the show got a lot better after I stopped watching, which is totally possible.)

The Sopranos seemed to me like a really great show, but the best thing ever to grace the small screen? I liked Homicide better. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too. Ditto my latest TV crushes, Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica. But these shows don't get giant billboards and Vanity Fair covers like The Sopranos does. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on David Chase's show--I just wish people would save a few plaudits for some of the other great TV being produced.

All of which is a long wind-up to this interesting bit from Ross Douthat:

I would actually go a little further than this (and I do, in a forthcoming piece), and argue that The Sopranos is implicitly - and sometimes explicitly - a show about damnation, and how ordinary, often-sympathetic people can willingly choose to go to hell.


jon said...


If you have any interest in political philosophy, then The Sopranos is more or less modern Shakespeare. Douthat is correct: The Machiavellian implications are apparent for even a total dunce to see, but sometimes I think they've a Straussian writing some of these episodes. There are plenty more subtle ones lurking under the surface. One might reasonably suggest that the cause of Tony's depression would best be described in terms of the ancients: Modern life is unnatural and hence insuffiicient for nourishing the human soul.

I suggest you pull some serious DVD time with seasons 1-3 before you close the books on this show.

Anonymous said...

You're a tard.

jon said...

But not a coward, anonymous.

Joe said...

While agreeing that the first season was all the there there with regards to the Sopranos, I also enjoy the potentials of a show the embraces the narcissistic suckitude of being a materialistic and amoral person. Commentor Jon, let me disagree with you one a small point. If we regard Tony Soprano as a Shakespearan tragic hero, then what is his flaw? If Othello loved not poorly, but too much and Hamlet could not make up his mind, then whither Ant'ny (to use the Brooklyn vernacular)? I don't think we can point to the show as a modern Shakespearan tragedy, though I would happily be proven wrong on sucha matter.

Because Tony Sopranos behaviors tend to be driven by narcissistic need fulfillment, is his tragic flaw the choice to join the family business?

I think Tony's depression is a function of what was simply explained in the pilot, that which gives him stability - his family - he is in danger of losing, a la the ducks. In his fear to not need the common bonds of family, a weakness to a ruthless and cold blooded killer, his walls of isolation serve to both insulate him from those pesky emotions that might prevent him from whacking somebody like Big Pussy. Indeed those walls, those necessary and vital walls, are the source of his depression, because they prevent him from experiencing anything that would be perceived as normal or good.

I do not really understand those who lament the passing of a long running show, even one as lauded as the Sopranos. It is but television. Now Homicide, that was something a little different. ;)

Adam said...

Someone, call Hollywood and calmly explain to them that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and the only thing that will put everything right is a six-episode crossover between The Shield and The Sopranos.

It worked for The Green Hornet and Batman. It worked for Transformers and GI Joe. It worked for Law & Order and Homicide.

And, goddammit, I didn't buy a big TV just so I could sit around and not watch Vic Makey beat the sh*t out of the Sopranos crew.

jk said...

Would you care to rank Shield, Buffy and Battlestar?

You're my sire as I started watching Buffy after reading your Weekly Standard column. I liked all the Whedon oeuvre, but nothing since has matched up. What's next for the Buffyverse-spoiled?

Jonathan V. Last said...

Next up for Buffyverse junkies is Drive, which premiers April 20. It's written and created by Tim Minear, who was involved in Angel and Firefly and who masterminded two fabulous short-lived shows, Wonderfalls and The Inside.

If you haven't seen Wonderfalls, go get the DVDs. You won't be disappointed.