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The Sopranos: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Review)

From pretty much the opening scene, I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano begins wrapping up loose ends with a ruthless efficiency. Jimmy, the rat identified in Nobody Knows Anything, is murdered less than five minutes into the episode. All the various plot threads seeded throughout the show’s first year come to a head. The feud between Junior and Tony is resolved. The FBI swoop in. Tony and Melfi talk it out and figure out exactly what their relationship is. Even Artie’s restaurant becomes a focal point, providing a direct link back to the very first episode.

For all the talk of randomness and inconsistency in The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, everything here seems to come a full circle. It’s absolutely stunningly executed, and one of the best things that can be said about I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (and one of the best things that could be said about any piece of television drama ever) is the fact that it feels so much deeper and richer than its runtime. We know that it’s an hour-long, but it really feels so much meatier and more substantial than that.

It’s a beautiful culmination to a year’s worth of television.

Lights out...

Lights out…

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The Sopranos – Nobody Knows Anything (Review)

Nobody Knows Anything represents the beginning of the end of the first season of The Sopranos. It is, despite my reservations about Boca and even A Hit is a Hit, a remarkably strong season of television. Part of the thrill of Nobody Knows Anything – particularly after two relatively stand-alone episodes – is watching the series gracefully and fluidly start knocking down the dominoes it has been lining up since the start of the season.

It’s text-book set-up and pay-off, executed with considerable skill. Rewatching the first season of The Sopranos, it’s easy to understand why so many viewers were frustrated by the non-resolution of Made in America. The Sopranos has constantly riffed on The Godfather, right down to Paulie’s car horn here, and it feels like the show is making a conscious effort to emulate the efficiency with which Coppola structured that gangster classic’s final act.

Diving on in there...

Diving on in there…

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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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Sopranos: Meadowlands (Review)

It’s interesting how slowly The Sopranos approached the violence of what Tony does. Of course, the pilot episode (The Sopranos) featured Tony brutally beating a debtor in an attempt to earn his money back and the subsequent episode (46 Long) featured Tony beating up an employee at the Bada-Bing for failing to work the telephone properly, but the show generally eased us into seeing Tony as a truly “bad” guy.

It was never ambiguous about his mob connections or the crimes and violence that he committed or that he authorised others to commit, but the first few episodes generally keep that violence somewhat insulated from Tony. Paulie and Pussy brutalise the car thieves to reclaim a teacher’s lost car, while Tony’s threatened castration of a Jewish man refusing to play ball is kept off-screen. While Tony would commit his first on-screen murder in the next episode (College), Meadowlands feels like the first episode to truly present Tony as a borderline sociopath, and to demonstrate just how aggressive and possessive he can be.

Paying respects...

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