Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Sopranos

I have started using the F word frequently after watching this series. It came easily. (I know I know. I am working on it). It can be that contagious.

I am not sure what's so appealing about Mafia dramas. But there is something there. The glamor,violence,language, the entire package. In some way this all draws a crowd. It shouldn't be a surprise that 'The Godfather' I and II are amongst my all time favorites movies and I am sure it would be on most people's list.

The HBO series "The Sopranos" I think is "The Godfather' of Television series. The series lasted for 6 seasons and almost 9 years. For it's entire length it kept it's audiences mesmerized to a "certain" Italian sub-culture. The food, the family get-togethers, the language, the tone, the accent, the humor, the trigger-happy gangmen, the emotional family *show offs*, deceit, conspiracy and sometimes intense conversations; all become addictive at a certain point.

The series is about Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his Italian family from New Jersey. As you get involved in Tony's life, you identify with his complex life and how he deals with it at every step. His blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with his wife, with his son and daughter, his decisive and often ruthless actions while managing his Mafia rule, his friends, his enemies and his extended family members all slowly unravel before you.

An interesting sub plot in the series is Tony's regular visit to his shrink, played brilliantly by Lorraine Bracco. I thought it was David Chase's master stroke. By adding such a conversation between patient Tony and doctor Melfi in the story, he was able to relay lot of sub stories in a compact and crisp manner. Without having to add scenes.

There was no need for a background commentary or voice over for letting viewers know Tony's emotional upheavals. Because Tony would convey it to shrink and more importantly via her to us, the viewers. Chase would introduce these psychiatric conversations and easily camouflage it in the script itself. These psychiatric visits of Tony also gave us glimpse of Tony's past as much as they gave us a handle to his current state. Sometimes even to his future plans.

Apart from Tony Sopranos' role which I thought was played very well by James Gandolfini, Carmila Soprano, played by the super brilliant Eddie Falco deserves a mention.She was most impressive in her role as Tony's hapless wife. She brought a lot of method to her acting and yet came out natural in the end. I think she deserved all those Emmys for sure.

I watched the last episode of Sopranos yesterday. Now my Netflix queue is devoid of Sopranos and I feel bad. Talking of last episode, it did create quite a stir if not controversy. Check the intensity of debate here and here.
When you have like 200 odd comments on the site, you know this HBO series hit a sweet spot somewhere. And in some demography.

For me the best part of the series was its pace. It did not try too hard on any front. It let it slip in. Of course with the right mix of shocks and surprises, drama and comic relief. It created an illusion of 'taking it as it comes' without trying 'over the top' stunts to engage viewership. There was no false pretense in most things. Every controversial topic of contemporary America - political, social, economical - were deftly handled by David Chases' talented team of writers.

Tony Soprano of course has an imposing and dominating presence over the entire series. But all other characters are not mere sidekicks. They have extremely significant role to play. And they fill in the canvas with their own shades very impressively.

There is no effort to provide justification to the crime. The circle of life comes back to bite most of these gangsters. Thats how it is shown, albeit subtly. If they are not bumped off by a rival gang then they are by their own men. In the world where no one can ever be trusted, it is ironical, that Tony in the end gets a life saving tip from the FBI. Thats how Tony's world is shown.

One of my favorite scenes is one where Tony has a conversation with Carmila after his near death experience. She is freaking over her future in case "something happens to Tony" and Tony just says "I am right up there!!! Don't you see?". There's intensity in Tony's eyes at that moment. But also overwhelming faith in something above. He is unable to express completely. Yet those five words convey many things. It was Tony's way of saying, 'I have been attacked so many times and seen death from such near quarters, yet I keep surviving every time. There must be some force that does not need me out. It keeps bringing me back. Don't you see it?"

That conversation was particularly striking, in that, it told how even the most powerful of mobsters have a "faith" based sensibilities. They have faith in "something up there" and live by that trust all the time. They explain away things via simple Godly and supernatural based arguments. There is a method to their madness. In almost everything.

Even regular conversations.

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