The Times thing sounds reprehensible–I agree. If, I don’t know, Bob Herbert sent around a mass e-mail with dirty jokes about the wives of Texas executioners, do you think he’d get fired?
I want to move away from all this witty banter about politics and media ethics and move on to something more serious: TV. I noticed in several papers today that HBO plans to rerun all 13 episodes of The Sopranos starting the day after Christmas (a holiday that Nancy Marchand’s character, Livia Soprano, would no doubt say is a racket for the non-Jews). I don’t know about you, but I love television. Some people have sports; other people have politics. I have digital cable: 500 channels of bliss. Watching The Sopranos last spring was like gazing at a Rothko or eating at Chez Panisse. It was art, pure and simple, and it was immensely nourishing–and if you don’t believe me, ask the half-dozen or so guys I play poker with every week. They’re not your average beer-bellied slackers (well, only one is), and they’re not alpha-wave-overdosed geeks. They’re sophisticates, and to a one they savored every episode, every frame, every line. It’s all we talked about then, and again all we talked about when the series was rerun for the first time over the summer. What makes it so good? All the usual things: wonderful writing, great casting (the co-casting director is Christopher Walken’s wife), and a very contemporary story line that has already been copied to ill effect by other movies and TV shows. What The X-Files was a few years ago and Ally McBeal was last year, The Sopranos is this year: A masterpiece fraudulently imitated by lesser men–the sort who wouldn’t be let into the Bada Bing Club. (Don’t ask.)
One reason I think The Sopranos is so far superior to everything else on the tube is that everything else on the tube is dreadful. Even The West Wing, a shabby small-screen version of every big-screen movie about the inner workings of government (which are themselves shabby versions of the real thing, which is itself a shabby version of what the real thing should be), is a hit; it ought to be canceled, if only to send a message to the dentist who capped Martin Sheen’s teeth. Only a little while ago, it seems, everyone was marveling at how TV had eclipsed the movies in terms of quality, which led to an exodus of film folks for the friendlier confines of the blue glow. This season, I think, the tide has turned back. It’s been a banner year for the movies, at least in my opinion. I really liked American Beauty, Three Kings, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and Being John Malkovich, to name but five of the very solid flicks that lived up to and even exceeded my expectations in the past few months. Whereas, except for The Simpsons and The Practice, there are no TV shows worth watching regularly anymore. This is probably the reason for the rise of the magazine shows on VH-1, E!, and the like. Not that I need to rationalize the existence of Behind the Music. The minute I saw Leif Garrett in his bandanna hopefully talking about a comeback in 2000, I was hooked. He had me at hello.
Tucker, you have little kids, right? I have a 3-year-old, and she is much more optimistic about the future of television than I am. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t ask to watch Arthur or the new hip Zoom, whose cast is as diverse ethnically and, for all I know, in its sexual orientation as the first Clinton cabinet. Lately, though, our favorite–hers and mine–is the animated series based on the George and Martha books. The main characters are two hippos, friends rather than lovers, and I’ve always suspected that George is gay–the first homosexual lead, as it were, in children’s entertainment. (I’m not counting Professor Brown in Bednobs and Broomsticks. The Brits are simply effete.) And, wouldn’t you know, I’m right. Nathan Lane does the voice of George with such flamboyance and relish that it puts the actors on Will and Grace to shame.
What’s Will and Grace? Uhh, maybe we should go back to talking about politics.