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The Sopranos: Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…

Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office gets the second season of The Sopranos off to a strong start. We’re immediately informed that time has elapsed and that everything has sorted itself out. We get a montage to assure us that it’s business as usual, and the early part of the episode features Tony tying off the last possible lose end in the feud between himself and Junior. However, there’s also a sense that things are changing, both in the lives of our characters and also in the way the show is structured.

The first season of the show is a damn fine piece of television, but it’s also somewhat misleading. It’s a beautifully structured thirteen-episode mob epic which manages to satisfactorily tie up all its loose ends by the time the credits role on I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano. It’s understandable that so many people were frustrated by the show’s non-resolution after the first season wrapped up so elegantly.

With the success of that first season, there’s a sense of earned confidence to Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office, as if Chase feels like he has a bit more freedom to work with in telling his great American novel.

Something's not quite right here...

Something’s not quite right here…

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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: 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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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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The Sopranos: Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Review)

Denial, Anger, Acceptance marks the first episode of The Sopranos not written by creator David Chase. In the United Kingdom, it’s traditional for a particular writer (or writers) to write every episode of a given series, to the point where you are quite likely to find a television show credited “by” a particular person. In the United States, due to longer seasons and various other concerns, such an approach isn’t feasible. (There are exceptions, such as Aaron Sorkin’s tenure on The West Wing, where he contributed eight-one scripts in the show’s first four seasons.) However, The Sopranos remains associated with its creator, David Chase, so it’s interesting to look at Denial, Anger, Acceptance as the first episode written by a writer other than Chase, in this case Mark Saraceni.

Sticking his neck out...

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