The Sopranos

davidchase

By the time The Sopranos ended its six season run on HBO, it was not only one of the most popular shows on TV, it was also viewed as a cultural touchstone that changed our perception of what TV shows could be and that helped usher in the golden age of high quality television drama we’re living in today. Given the show’s mainstream success and critical accolades, you would think that its creator David Chase’s post-series jump to directing features for the big screen would have been a big deal, and possibly would have involved material just as innovative and genre-blending as what came to be known as his signature work on The Sopranos. But what came next didn’t prove to be mainstream or genre-bending at all. In fact, there are probably a lot of people out there who still don’t even know that Chase has made a movie.

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Breaking Bad

Spoiler Warning for all both of you who haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad‘s finale. There’s something a little bit curious about a series that gave us one of cable’s most definitive male anti-heroes seeking absolute resolution and closure upon its final hour. But that’s exactly what Breaking Bad did Sunday night, with Vince Gilligan repeatedly pronouncing The Sopranos’ ambiguous ending as its prototype-for-opposition. It’s telling that, amongst all the finales of comparably beloved 21st century cable dramas, Gilligan steered the conversation about the end of Walter White so directly through the terms of David Chase’s game-changer. Sure, both shows have clear points of comparison, as each are violent, regionally specific contemporary tales of a paterfamilias’ less-than-legitimate business tooled toward the visage of a “normal” domestic life, and both shows carried some debated expectations that their respective underworld kingpins would find their demise by the last musical cue (be it provided by Bad Finger or Journey). But more appropriately, these two shows can be seen as bookends to the same greater phenomenon: the golden age of cable’s repeated focus on male anti-heroes to drive their narratives. As many have noted, this trope has brought us some great – or, at least, compelling – shows, but now with the calculated (and certain) death of one of its most celebrated manifestations, it’s time to give this trope a rest and see what else television can do.

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The Sopranos

Two nights before I completed my somewhat accidental binge watch of The Sopranos, I overheard a stranger at a party bitching about how overrated the show was – he seemed to think that the dream sequences were “unrealistic” and he also seemed unable to identify with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in even the slightest of ways (the great trick of The Sopranos is, of course, that it gets us to relate to a violent, mentally ill criminal). His favorite part of the entire show? One that never actually happened – he seemed to think that Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) was the one who told Carmela (Edie Falco) she had to leave Tony immediately during one of their short-lived therapy sessions. He seemed to take great interest in that moment, and even a bit of pride – that’s what I’ve been saying! Yeah! You gotta leave him, Carm! – which is why it’s sort of sad that he remembered it all wrong, and that it was another therapist (Dr. Krakower, as recommended by Dr. Melfi, a psychologist Carm saw just once) that gave Carmela the advice. Sure, he got the basics down – he knew it was a shrink that told Carm the news, but thinking that Dr. Melfi would say such a thing to Carmela was a big misunderstanding of both their characters. He didn’t get it. After eighty-six episodes of The Sopranos, watched over approximately six weeks, I think I get it, at least as someone who wasn’t […]

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Tony Soprano

Long before (at least in entertainment years) we were gifted with all sorts of television shows that focus squarely on the rise and fall of lovable, fallible, and infuriating anti-heroes, there was Tony Soprano. Following James Gandolfini’s untimely and heartbreaking death last month, television’s reigning king of the twisted anti-hero, Bryan Cranston, tweeted “I’m saddened by James Gandolfini’s passing. He was a great talent & I owe him. Quite simply, without Tony Soprano there is no Walter White.” And there would also be no Don Draper and thus two of my favorite current and all-time television shows would not exist. Which makes it all the more egregious that, as of a week ago, I had never watched The Sopranos. You can start throwing tomatoes or trash or mean comments now. Not watching The Sopranos was unquestionably a gap in my Gandolfini-watching experience, and particularly bizarre when you consider that my favorite Gandolfini performance was from Not Fade Away, the first movie directed by Sopranos creator David Chase. Clearly, there was something about these two together that worked for me, but the prospect of working through six seasons of television seemed daunting. Well, daunting until I started.

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James Gandolfini Sopranos

The world lost a robust acting presence on Wednesday. It was obvious looking at James Gandolfini that the big guy was powerful, but his work was often so fragile and nuanced that he had no trouble crawling into our veins. No one did vulnerable tough guys quite as well as he did, leaving his footprint on television and film screens alike. With that in mind, we put the entirety of his career to our panel of writers, asking simply: what is James Gandolfini’s best performance? Their answers (and a place for your own) can be found below.

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Not Fade Away Trailer

The Sopranos creator David Chase has been working on his Not Fade Away ever since the gangster show’s finale. That’s a bit ironic, considering The Sopranos’ ending wasn’t afraid to piss off a few million viewers, while his directorial feature debut, Not Fade Away, appears to be about as safe as coming-of-age tales come. Chase may not try to reinvent the wheel this time around, but based on this trailer, maybe he doesn’t need to. Check out the first trailer for Not Fade Away after the jump.

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Culture Warrior

I really love Mad Men. I talk about it a lot. Since The Wire ended in 2008, and I haven’t seen any episodes of Boardwalk Empire yet, then as far as my knowledge takes me it’s the best damn show currently on television. Nothing I’m saying here is necessarily new, but Mad Men effectively does a great many things I’ve never seen television do before in that it 1) delivers is an incredibly entertaining and engaging media object while it uses its protagonists to criticize and reveal the potentially manipulative processes of media itself, 2) interrogates any continuous notion of the ever-interpretationally-oscillating “good old days” by showing how they were neither that good nor that long ago, thereby criticizing our culture’s all-too-convenient rotating manufacture of nostalgia, 3) utilizes the past to criticize white male heteronormative hegemony and reveal a systematic culture of sexism, racism, and homophobia, and all the while 4) creates compelling drama as manifested by ambiguous, layered characters with the combination of beautiful cinematography and impeccable production design. Mad Men, in short, is an engrossing, enjoyable, and thought-provoking series in unprecedented ways. But for a show to engage in such a rare criticism of a cultural moment, a bit of negotiation is required. And it is in this respect that some major problems with the show have arisen recently.

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In the last ten years, practices of storytelling and spectatorship in television have changed drastically, and, most likely, for good.

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I wasn’t quite sure at first how to tackle a list of the Best DVDs of the Year… by definition, aren’t the best dvds the ones containing the best movies? (Yes, they are.) We don’t want this to be a list of the year’s best movies though, so instead we’re looking at the best collections, box sets, and special editions. Obviously the quality of the movies or shows within still matter, but they’re just one aspect of a truly great dvd release. The other two most important things in a quality dvd are the extras and the packaging. The best dvds of the year should ideally have all three traits… awesome feature, awesome extras, awesome packaging. (At the very least they should have two out of three.) So here we go. These are the Best DVDs of 2009! AK100 (Criterion) This may be considered cinematic heresy but I’ve only seen three of Akira Kurosawa’s many movies. Forgive me. Happily the fine folks at Criterion have long been supporters of the director, and this year they released the most comprehensive dvd set ever seen for any director. AK100 celebrates what would have been Kurosawa’s 100th birthday and includes 25 of his movies from a career that lasted half a century. It includes the ones I’ve seen (Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Yojimbo) and several others including a few that have never even had an official dvd release. The films each come in their own case, and the set also comes with a […]

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Sopranos Creator David Chase

For those of you who thought the ambiguous ending to the “Sopranos” series finale was an indicator that creator David Chase was just milking for a Jersey mafia movie deal, you were wrong then and you’re wrong now.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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