TV Club

A Portrait of the American Family

Dear Tim:

To tire of The Sopranos is to tire of life? Jeez, that’s throwing down the gauntlet. What if I were to tell you I was bored out of my skull by several of last season’s (OK, Season 6, Part 1) episodes—you know the ones, the “Only HBO Can Save Time Warner’s Tanking Stock So Let’s Force David Chase To Make More Sopranos Episodes Than He Ever Contemplated Making” episodes? I can barely remember what happened during many of these water-treading hours. It was in the first half of this last season that The Sopranos finally seemed to succumb to the unromantic reality of what remains of mob life, which is that the mob is made up of stupid people (“dead-enders,” to borrow from D. Rumsfeld) who have nothing interesting to say and spend nearly all their time doing nothing. I just got a letter from one of the mobsters I used to cover; he is, of course, looking for a ghostwriter, though he spelled ghost “goste” and also penitentiary “penintensury.” (There’s no spell check in prison, but still.) I had dinner with him once in Corona, Queens, at Parkside, a wonderful restaurant favored by the bent-nose crowd, and I almost fell asleep in the red sauce: There’s only so much to say about Puerto Rican strippers, Fila track suits, and Zoloft—yes, he was on Zoloft. And, by the way, if he’s reading this, no matter; the mob no longer has the ability to intimidate or take meaningful revenge. (Proof: Junior Gotti never even tried to kill the man whose testimony led to his father’s terminal incarceration: Sammy “Bull” Gravano.)

Sorry, Tim, I digress: I often confuse you for Jerry Capeci. I know that happens to you a lot.

It was about the time the sixth season started that I fell hard for another HBO show, The Wire, which is so beautifully told, so taut and bleak and hilarious and—you should pardon me—socially redeeming (no less a personage than Slate’s strap-on-your-Compton-hat editor calls it the greatest show ever on television) that The Sopranos suddenly seemed a bit superannuated.

Not to worry. I’m not picking a fight with you here. The vamping seems to be over. Last night’s episode, as you correctly note, was fantastic. Everything I ever loved about The Sopranos, except for Paulie Walnuts’ and Little Steven’s hair, was on-screen, in abundance: gorgeous writing and wonderful acting (What can James Gandolfini possibly do after this?), dread, violence, family dysfunction, and full-contact Monopoly. The Soprano family, as Bobby notes, goes too far—but seldom all the way to caricature. David Chase recently argued that people watch The Sopranos because Tony and Carmela and company remind them of their own families. I have to say that I’ve never gotten into a fistfight during a Monopoly game (though I once gave your colleague Jack Shafer a hell of a beating during a round of Candy Land), but no show I’ve seen captures the resentments, regrets, joys, and utter irrationalities of American family life in the manner of The Sopranos. Or am I wrong? Do people watch TheSopranos simply for the blood? And when you finish answering that question, do me a favor and tell me how you think the show will end. That will allow me to segue to my own theory on how the show will end—a theory that I’ve been working on for three years and does not involve the Russian.