[Pretty much all interesting discussion of good TV or movies is going to include spoilers.]
- The last episode was excellent. It was very well -structured, the typical day-in-the-life rhythm of the show with some subtle Last Episode events (I liked Hunter coming back as a med student.) It was good to see Harris’ entanglement with Tony pay off so strikingly, providing a resolution without false hope. The concluding sequence was brilliant, and I’m baffled by people who would prefer a neat, tidy, Friends-like ending. One can read the ending as assuming that the guy won’t come out of the bathroom with just his dick in his hand, with the fade to black reflecting the recalled warning that you don’t see it coming. Or the bell ringing that concluded the show could suggest that the killer (or the FBi) just walked in. Or to represent the fact that Tony, despite Philly’s killing, will be looking up at every bell for the rest of his life. Would just choosing one of these endings be more satisfying? Of course not. The ambiguity is more appropriate. I don’t want The Sopranos to be a typical middlebrow broadcast drama–to repudiate what made it great–and am glad it didn’t go out that way.
- The final season was very, very strong. Admittedly, I’ve always opposed the lazy narrative that held that it declined steadily after the first and second seasons; several of the best episodes were in the fifth, the final episodes of season 3 all spectacular, and there was no real decline in quality until the 6A, which (especially in the first half) was genuinely subpar. It very much recovered in season 6B, however. After the terrific opener a couple of the episodes were clearly transitional, setting up the final plotlines, but none were weak and they kept getting better. The need to use Melfi had been a drag on the show for a while, but the conclusion in the penultimate episode was perfect.
- The one episode I need to watch again is “Kennedy and Heidi.” I was very much torn between thinking that Christopher’s death wasn’t given enough dramatic weight, and thinking that its sudden, opportunistic nature was just right. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the second option.
- Like Rob, I was baffled by Matt’s point here. Tony’s gambling was hardly a new “character trait,” but a dramatically interesting manifestation of the impulsiveness and desire for immediate gratification that has consistently caused problems for his business and his marriage (as well as a means of addressing the economic insecurity that he’s worried about since literally the first episode.) It’s precisely the same aspect of his character that, later in the season, caused him to kick out the teeth of the guy who mildly insulted his daughter when rational long-term planning would dictate laying low.
- I felt confident that Chase would not end things with a shootout. I was worried about a dream sequence, but thankfully he seemed to get it out of his system. (I should note that while the second half of 6A improves on a second viewing, the lengthy dream sequence gets even worse–knowing how trite the payoff will be makes the vacuous pretension even worse, a bizarre lapse in quality for such a remarkable achievement.)
- I don’t want to say much more until I’ve had a chance to watch them twice, but certainly this was a much more satisfying conclusion than I expected.
UPDATE: Matt is, of course, correct that there’s nothing necessarily “middlebrow” about a neat conclusion and to call out my implication otherwise, but I do think there is something middlebrow about requiring a neat conclusion (although not everybody dissatisfied with this particular ending necessarily falls into this category, so in that sense the charge was unfair.) In terms of the “Stockholm Syndrome” charge, I think it’s pretty effectively rebutted by the dream sequence link above, as well as what I’ve said about the atypical Sorkinesque position-paper-reading in “Christopher.” Chase is definitely capable of shooting bricks (one of which nearly wrecked a season); I just don’t happen to think that the final episode was one of them, and in general have also never heard a good argument about how the show got aesthetically worse in seasons 1-5. (And not because I think the first season was perfect; the dream sequences/visions in the penultimate episode were pretty annoying, actually.)
So, I wait for two seasons and get all of two crappy battle scenes. I wait, because I know that they’ll do a good Actium; how could they not do a good Actium? It’s such a cinematic battle, with the ships and the fire and the Antony and the Cleopatra and the general awesomeness of a clash that would help set the course of the Mediterranean world for the next 400 years. What do I get? A couple ships burning in the distance, and a depressed Mark Antony blathering about it’s not so bad to lose epic historical battles.
On the other hand, it’s clear that Caesar Augustus would make a better President than G.W. Bush: “We need to keep the Egyptian people quiet. I suspect that destroying the Royal Palace with their Queen inside might make them peevish.”
Shakes asks about the most overrated shows ever to appear on the teevee. (Fortunately, I’ve never seen Lost and can avoid her wrath.) Doing this with television can be tricky, especially since so many series go on after being exhausted (because critics seemed to catch up with Six Feet Under only after it became not very good, for example, it could plausibly be on a most underrated and most overrated list.) So I’m thinking of shows in their “prime.” And I also strive to bracket out questions of mere genre taste; I find The X-Files overrated not so much on aesthetic grounds as that I find the entire premise too intensely irritating to get beyond, which I don’t think is really with the spirit of the category. Anyway, here we go:
- Sex and the City: It was a critical darling and cultural icon. And it was also a show with C-grade broadcast sitcom writing and (Cynthia Nixon excepted) barely-adequate-to-horrible acting about exceptionally uninteresting characters learning fundamentally sexist lessons. In other words, the easiest choice on the list.
- 24: The recent discussion about its right-wing politics obscures the real problems with the show, which is that it sucks, something that was quite evident before its politics became clear. In the immortal words of the Editors, “Here’s the plot of “24”: there’s a bunch of terrorists, Kiefer stops them, oh wait no he didn’t, but now he did really, and just in the nick of time! Because even the cruelest TV executive couldn’t stretch this over more than 4 hours, the rest of the show has to be padded out with subplots, mainly involving his daughter getting kidnapped. Oh, Lord, can that girl get kidnapped. Most people can live a good long life without ever getting kidnapped; an unfortunate few do get kidnapped once; there are probably a few examples through history of people getting kidnapped two, or maybe even three, times. Kiefer’s daughter gets kidnapped like seven times a day. She gets kidnapped from people who kidnapped her from kidnappers. If she makes it to dinner time without being kidnapped at least twice, that’s a cause for celebration in the Kiefer household.” And the fact that Keifer Sutherland can win a best actor Emmy tells you all you need to know about the value of those awards.
- The West Wing: It may seem strange to put what is, I guess, Sorkin’s best show on the list, but that’s the overrated/bad distinction. Even if most critics only saw the glaring suckiosity of Studio 60 after it became a ratings fiasco, it’s hard to call it overrated at this late date, and SportsNight wasn’t long-running enough. Between its wholly unearned reputation for political acuity and the fact that it was a mediocre show discussed as if it was comparable in quality to The Sopranos (hint: in an actual great show, all the characters don’t sound like the script’s author), I found it essentially unbearable despite the good actors. I’ll admit that the 9/11 episode was anomalously bad, but when I saw those students trapped in a room so that a “character” could read–complete with blackboard!–trite moderate-liberal position papers about the Political Implications Of Terrorist Attacks at them, I could identify strongly with them because I had seen an Aaron Sorkin show.
- Law and Order: SVU Granted, the all-pervos-all-the-time premise does largely pre-empt the “I’m putting the Iraq War on trial!!!!!!!!!!!!!” moments that make many late episodes of the mother show unwatchable. Still, there’s something about the DeMillian simultaneous exploitation and moralism that’s very annoying, and as a procedural it’s pretty lame. Plus, Mariska Hargitay isn’t that good.
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