Monday, July 18, 2011

sopranos - dreck

We get a few channels through the satellite here and one of them is the Fox Crime channel and one of the programs shown on that channel is The Sopranos. I understand that it was a commercial and critical success and ground-breaking for its time, but frankly, I think it is awful.

Is it because its time was ten years ago and it now feels dated and the content is not as groundbreaking? No, I think not. There are elements that are obviously dated and perhaps it is not as edgy when compared to modern premium cable fare, but I have no real qualms with the style and cinematography. When I was watching The Wire earlier this year, another critical success from roughly the same era, it also felt contemporary enough despite obviously dated surveillance methods. The Sopranos must suffer from a different issue.

Is it my bias against that overwrought, stereotypical accent? Like many U.S. regional accents, it causes my blue-blooded self to look down on all who speak it with the disdain only someone with Gold Medallion flyer status can be allowed to possess. Or not. In reality, I suppose the accents are somewhat believable and are apparently authentic. I do have a cognitive bias against that Jersey accent, but after a couple episodes, I was able to look past it and now it's just present instead of pushing itself to the forefront of my attention.

Is the problem with the characters themselves? I think this is much more likely. Dramatic television is built around compelling characters that you care about. If you care about the character and what might happen to him/her, then you will keep watching to find out if their atypical and fictional-television worthy life keeps moving along. A simple enough concept that is of course difficult to successfully execute. In The Sopranos, I just cannot muster up any feeling of caring about the characters. They all strike me as interminable whiners. My first thought after a scene between Tony Soprano and his psychiatrist (who I hope meets an untimely demise in the show's storyline) is that Tony reminds me of Holden Caulfield. I haven't even read The Catcher in the Rye since high school and could barely tell you much about the plot or themes of the novel, but listening to Tony talk to his psychiatrist instantly reminded me of Holden and his complaints about all the "phony" people. Tony Soprano is Holden Caulfield? That is a question for a college student in desperate need for a mid-semester paper to explore, but it captures the core of my problem with the show.

Perhaps the entire program was successful, not only for its authenticity and groundbreaking-ness, but also because it featured a cast of whiners that audience members could instantly relate with. Shows are often at least partly successful during their respective eras by embracing some reasonably popular sentiment of said era. (It has to be popular enough for the show to keep enough viewers to justify keeping the show on the air.) In this case, the sentiment was whining. The Sopranos gave my generation and the one before mine a dramatic show full of people like ourselves! And knowing that the show was as popular as it was only makes that more aggravating since I know lots of people thought this was good and relate-able.

I'm not sure when it happened, or perhaps it happens to many people around my age, but there's a sense that people have become worse. Just generally worse at everything. Did we undergo a cultural shift in the late 90s and early 2000s that allowed for The Sopranos to be embraced by so many? A shift towards the "not my fault" culture? This is my biggest problem with the show and watching Tony Soprano prattle on to his psychiatrist, because it mirrors where I feel like we as a country have stumbled so badly. In reality, the country is not as bad off as I probably think it is, but it will not get better if "not my fault" grows larger.


ivy said...

I remember back in college there were only really two TV shows people watched on HBO - Sopranos or Sex and the City. For me, I think the appeal was the grittiness and the depiction of a real life mobster. How else are you supposed to know? Then came The Wire.

Anonymous said...

KQED Masterpiece Mystery can be watched on line. If you don't understand the British accent, you just back track it or use the close caption feature. Zen is a good show. It is even better if you read the book and then understand why it ends that way. Mystery

buickguy said...

My sense -- from my much longer perspective -- is that people have not gotten worse, but the economy has certainly not helped to bring out the best in people.

Brian said...

buickguy - I generally agree. It is a frustration of the modern communication age that we can now instantly share our thoughts, however moronic they might be, with anyone who will pay attention.