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The Sopranos: Isabella (Review)

With Isabella, the first season of The Sopranos comes to a head. It’s all been building and building since the pilot, and the penultimate episode is the point where things really start to pay off. It’s amazing how structured the first season of The Sopranos is, dedicated to build-up and pay-off. Despite the show is about the randomness of life and how stuff just sort of happens, there’s a very clear internal structure and logic to the first season.

Those frustrated by the ending (or arguable non-ending) of Made in America may have missed the point of the larger show, but it’s not an unreasonable expectation when the first season was so careful about paying off all of its plot points and thread. Isabella is the point where things go wrong for Tony in a big way. It’s the episode where Junior and Livia’s scheming puts a bullet in him (and – in one of the show’s countless references to The Godfather – through his orange juice).

At the same time, it remains a story driven by Tony, focused on his character and his own psychology.

Let sleeping mobsters lie...

Let sleeping mobsters lie…

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The Sopranos: A Hit is a Hit (Review)

A Hit is a Hit works a lot better than Boca, despite the fact that it’s structurally quite similar. It introduces a bunch of new characters and concepts to the series which don’t really extend beyond the episode in question. Massive G never appears again, and the pending lawsuit he threatens is never discussed in any later episode. It’s a light stand-alone tale coming towards the end of a season which has dedicated so much time and effort to building a full-formed world.

However, A Hit is a Hit doesn’t feel completely disposable. Part of that is down to the wonderful B-plot in which Tony finds himself struggling for acceptance among more the more reputable members of his neighbourhood, but it’s also down to the fact that the main plot feels like develops the themes of The Sopranos a lot better than Boca did, and that Christopher’s character arc feels like a logical progression rather than simply “an issue of the week.”

Ain't that a shot in the head?

Ain’t that a shot in the head?

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The Sopranos: The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti (Review)

The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti begins with a dream sequence. We’re not yet at the point where The Sopranos would spend an entire episode inside the head of one of its characters (okay, not literally, at any rate), but it sets a tone for the rest of the episode. The Sopranos attracts attention as an exploration of the American Dream, a look at what life is like in the shadow of all those expectations and aspirations, but it also feels like a black absurdist comedy.

The Sopranos could be one of the funniest shows on the air, and that grim sense of humour is pushed to the fore with The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, where the unfunniest thing in the episode is the stand-up comedian working an ageing crowd.

It's a laugh...

It’s a laugh…

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The Sopranos: Down Neck (Review)

I’ve said before (and many far smarter individuals have said it before me), but The Sopranos really feels like a novel for television. You can see that approach most distinctly in the first season, where David Chase cleverly structures the show that we spend more than half the season getting to know the cast, and getting comfortable with them, before things actually start happening in any truly meaningful sense. Of course, things have happened. The restaurant exploded, Junior and Tony nearly came to a head, but the approach has really been first and foremost about defining who these characters are, before we really get into what they do.

Down Neck, halfway through the first season, is really the perfect example. Not much really happens. Sure, plot threads advance. Livia discovers that her son is seeing a therapist. We hear that Junior is really settling into his new-found position of nominal authority. However, the most significant beats of Down Neck are concerned with character. A large portion of the episode is an extended flashback focusing on a dead character, and the rest sees the family dealing with the possible diagnosis of Anthony’s Attention Deficit Disorder. Hardly what one might have expected from the halfway point in the first season of a mob drama.

Family values…

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The Sopranos: Pax Soprana (Review)

I think it’s possible to make the argument that The Sopranos can be read as that illusive “great American novel”, just handily divided into eighty-six chapters and televised as opposed to written. Sure, it’s a show about the mob, but it’s also a compelling examination of the disillusionment festering at the heart of the American psyche. Tony might be a New Jersey mob boss, but most of his problems aren’t too far disconnected from those eating away at the American middle class. (Hell, I’d argue that it speaks volumes to the Irish psyche and probably many other nationalities as well.) As such, across the crucial first season, Chase and his team of writers seem to lay down and establish the core themes, allowing Tony to confront and explore just one of the many gnawing insecurities eating away at any middle-class father. In College, Tony wrestled with the idea that his daughter might discover who he truly is, while Pax Soprana explores the notion of impotence and insecurity – some times literally.

Psyche!

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The Sopranos: College (Review)

College is interesting because it perfectly captures a lot of the themes at the heart of The Sopranos, effortlessly blending Tony’s upper-middle-class concerns with his familial obligations (both to his nuclear family and to the mob). At the same time, it explores many of the inherently contradictory aspects of modern living, including the implied acquiesce to a culture of greed and corruption. College is the first time that we really see Tony get his own hands dirty, and it’s the point at which we explore how complicit Carmela is in his shady dealings and illegal activities. I think it’s a show that really pins down what the show is going to be – and it’s no surprise that the episode won Chase his first writing Emmy for the show, and is reportedly his favourite episode of the series.

Driving the conversation...

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