TV Club

Week 5: Southside Johnny, Revealed At Last

Tony Sirico as Paulie “Walnuts”

Dear Jeff and Tim,

You know how our public institutions seldom seem as impressive when viewed from the inside? I held you guys up as paragons of our trade—I remember reading Noah’s stuff by flashlight as a small boy on camping trips—and I’ve admired Jeffrey for years as the second-most prominent IDF veteran in American life (I was thinking of Rahm Emanuel, but come to think of it, didn’t Gene Simmons also serve in the Israeli military?), and now this. I regard you guys as the Pros From Dover on all things Sopranos-related, and yet I’m forced into some pretty rudimentary explanations here. First, about the Bing: Every Sopranos fan with a pulse in or near the Tri-State Area knows the real bar is Satin Dolls in Lodi, N.J. The production designers cover the sign on shooting days, and it becomes the Bing. I was there as a guest of HBO for the shooting of a few scenes that have already aired. Remember the guy rooting for the Bills? That scene, among others.

About Southside Johnny (a staple of my high school years in Jersey Shore bars. Did I say high school? I meant college. It would have been illegal to have been anywhere alcohol was served at that tender age), while my busy life has prevented me from embarking on a DVR frame-by-frame examination, I sure thought I saw him standing in as Nancy Sinatra’s band leader—and then I saw the credit. I could be wrong.

As to these wild theories about my visits to the set of The Sopranos, all I can say is this: David, as we intimates call him, correctly insists on a strict code of omertà regarding his show. What happens on the set stays on the set, until such time as it airs. Anchor comparisons to fictional characters? Not on your life. I will only say that I like to see myself as having the fidelity of Johnny Sack, the leadership skills (albeit mostly through fear and intimidation) of Tony, the quiet strength of Sil, and the aim of Christopher.

OK, this is where I get mushy. This has been an honor. Timothy: You and I have never met—but I told my wife just last night that my only previous contact with you was a condolence note I wrote to you after you lost your wonderful wife, Marjorie. She wrote a profile of yours truly for Vanity Fair, and she was a joy to be around. You were absolutely right to key in on the glance Christopher shot at Tony and Bobby—it was infused with anger and jealousy and sanctimony. In that great grilling scene, Tony then proceeds to patronize Christopher on the subject of nonalcoholic beer … and Christopher oh-so-gently pulls back the curtain of myth surrounding his own father, by calling him a “junkie.” Nice.

Jeffrey: You’re a man of letters who knows his mobsters and realizes the beauty of this series. You and I have covered enough of these guys to know that the mob isn’t about tuxedos, oak-paneled dens, kitten-stroking, and old Long Island mansions. The mob we know is about sleeveless undershirts (we all know what they’re also called), lawn chairs, spec houses, overdecorating, and Escalades. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. It’s real—because David Chase knows from real—and because the very first rule we’re all taught as cub writers is “Write what you know.”

I can’t participate in the Mix ‘n Match game because it wouldn’t be right. I cover the Bush administration. Some days more than others. On Monday afternoon, my wife and I attended a reception for the Queen at the British Embassy. There on the lawn, standing alone and off to the side, was Brent Scowcroft. I was gonna tell him what I knew about his portrayal in this column but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I guess I just needed to know I was stronger than Christopher.

In a way, it took you two guys to bring that out in me.

This has been fun. Thanks for having me. On to the Final 4.