Z Blog: We all know some Sopranos
“The Sopranos” thundered back onto HBO last night, and the best show on TV, despite 20 months off-the-air or maybe because of the break got even better. Not only do I think “The Sopranos” along with The Simpsons, is the best television show ever, but each week the shows writers churn out some of most profound and important drama being produced in any American medium that includes serious fiction, theater and memoirs real and fabricated.
Sure its about the insular world of the mob. Its a violent, profanity-filled soap opera about vicious people who care more about clothes, cars and style than intellectual pursuits or spiritual explorations hey, that sounds familiar; that sounds like an American. So what else does “The Sopranos” have to say about us and our fellow Americans? Beneath all the slick exteriors, beyond the strippers and the stream of F-words, is a well of philosophical questions about good and evil, family pressures, what one does with ones life and material possessions that could rile up Dostoevsky, Bob Dylan or Hemingway. By tricking us into adoring the murderous, philandering, uneducated Tony Soprano, the show tells us that beyond the extremes Hitler, Stalin, Mary Poppins there is some good in evil people and some slime in good people. Tony and his wife, Carmela, are the opposite poles of this vast gray area. When hes not extorting his thugs for a share of their criminal activities driving one to suicide and countless others to disastrous desperation Tony gives himself heartburn trying to saturate his wife and children with creature comforts. Tony is also loyal to those who are loyal to him, except that he sneaks up on and shoots his cousin to prevent a mob war; except that he has his nephews fiancee killed because she was talking to the FBI. As for Carmela, she is quick to belittle Tony for his womanizing lifestyle that threatens to destroy their family, but she doesnt hesitate to spend the spoils Tony earns destroying other peoples families. Each time she starts the new Porsche Cayenne he bought her Sunday night, she is more complicit in his crimes. Outside that lofty realm, the show takes on vital issues such as mental illness and aging without sentimentality. Tonys personality disorder isnt an artistic eccentricity that spawns abstract poems and colorfully quirky behavior. Tonys illness, partly a result of his mothers lack of affection and his fathers violent personality, is at the heart of his hyper-indulgent lifestyle and homicidal tendency. The show doesnt use Tonys illness to relieve him of an ounce of guilt for his crimes as his own psychiatrist says, other families have serious problems but they dont kill people. And the dementia of Tonys uncle isnt a graceful Driving-Miss-Daisy traipse into sunny infirmity. Uncle Juniors senility is not only a painful dilemma for his family, dredging up all sorts of ugly memories, rivalries and resentments, its downright dangerous. Thinking Tony is a long-dead mob rival, Uncle Junior shoots Tony. The scene is darkly comical, even ironic (in a previous season a much more lucid and ruthless Uncle Junior tried to have Tony killed), and at its heart, its a sad portrait of man lashing out against death as his faculties fail. You dont this sort of stuff on pseudo-serious shows like Law & Order or 24. There, the violence and grime is just that, violence and grime. Vail, Colorado