Posts Tagged ‘the sopranos’

Wonderland Episode 107: Tropes and Traps in Culture

November 15, 2017

I’m a guest on episode 7 of Wonderland, a new podcast series about popular culture as a potential vehicle for political change. I spoke with hosts Bridgit Antoinette Evans & Tracy Van Slyke and my fellow guest Nayantara Sen about the storytelling pitfalls television falls into, and how climbing out of them is an opportunity to both tell better stories and do better political work within them. The conversation is a lot of fun, and the whole series is up all at once, so if you like what you hear, binge the whole thing!

Cut to Black: The best (and worst) post-‘Sopranos’ series finales

June 9, 2017

It’s been a decade since “Don’t Stop Believin'” cut off in Holsten’s, and The Sopranos cut off with it. June 10 marks the tenth anniversary of the original airing of “Made in America,” the final episode of creator David Chase’s modern mafia masterpiece. Credited (correctly!) with kicking off a new Golden Age of Television, the show ended on an equally influential note: silence. We’ll never know whether mob boss Tony Soprano was killed as he sat down for dinner with his family (as in nuclear, not crime), or if his life simply went on, with the next FBI raid, hitman or plate of ziti always just around the corner. Nor are we meant to figure it out, no matter what you’ve read on the internet. For Chase, the ambiguity and uncertainty speak not only to Tony’s uniquely precarious existence, but all of ours’ as well.

Demanding, divisive and pretty much perfect for the show it concluded, “Made in America” remains the gold standard for finales to this day. In one form or another, nearly all its successors are a reflection of it, whether attempting to right its perceived wrongs or live up to its masterpiece status. Moreover, as one of the first major shows of its kind that was allowed to end in its own time and on its own terms, The Sopranosaccidentally popularized the unfortunate idea that a show is only as good as its final episode, and that if you don’t “stick the landing,” nothing that came before is worthwhile. That’s an extreme overreaction, of course — a bad finale is not a magic eraser that wipes out the hours you spent enjoying the show up until that point — but it’s a concept creators and audiences alike now wrestle with.

With Tony trapped in that diner limbo for ten years (Schrödinger’s Soprano?), we’re taking a look at six of the standout series finales that have aired since: Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Lost and Battlestar Galactica. What did they get right, or wrong, about the shows they’re concluding? What did viewers take away — and what should they have focused on instead? Should we be asking if they stuck the landing, or if they leapt into the unknown? Fire up the Journey and find out.

I wrote about some of the most satisfying and disappointing finales of the past decade, all involving really good shows, for my debut at Mic.

Shallow Rewards – The Song Remains the Shame: Mr. Robot and Stranger Things

September 26, 2016

I was delighted to become (I think) the first ever recurring guest on Shallow Rewards, the enormously insightful podcast from music criticism’s adulte terrible Chris Ott, to discuss the use of standout pop songs on the soundtracks of prestige television shows. We focus on Mr. Robot and Stranger Things (so watch out for spoilers) but touch on Halt and Catch Fire, The Sopranos, and The Wonder Years, with plenty of digressions into film soundtracks and film in general (Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese, SLC Punk, Under the Skin) as well. Chris is one of my favorite critics of any kind and it’s a pleasure talking to him. I hope you enjoy the results!

End Game: TV’s Best and Worst Series Finales

May 13, 2015

Best: ‘Battlestar Galactica’

Divine intervention, voluntary space-fleet destruction, the incredible disappearing Starbuck — the decisions made in the final episode of this politically charged sci-fi reboot baffled viewers at the time. Hindsight, however, has been extremely kind to Commander Adama and his crew. The show’s long-simmering supernatural elements paid off with the daring idea of a deity whose actions are just as unpredictable and unfathomable as humanity’s. And the joint human-Cylon decision to jettison their ships and live out their days planet-side — in what turns out to be our own Earth’s pre-history — bucked a core tenet of post-apocalyptic SF, arguing that individual lives are more important than the preservation of a culture at all costs. Risky? You bet. Rewarding? So say we all.

I wrote about Battlestar Galactica, Cheers, Dexter, Lost, Roseanne, and The Sopranos for Rolling Stone’s list of the best and worst series finales. But which are which? The answer may surprise you!

The Shocking 16: TV’s Most Heartstopping Moments

April 2, 2014

I wrote up 16 of the New Golden Age of TV’s most surprising and suspenseful scenes and sequences for Rolling Stone (with a little help from my fabulous editor David Fear). Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Lost, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, The Shield, The Sopranos, True Detective, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, The Wire. Read, then vote in our neat bracket tournament thing!

Three deaths

June 21, 2013

Kim Thompson was one of the very best people in the history of comics, in every way that “one of the very best people” could be meant. He would be a hall-of-fame editor if all he ever did was get Jacques Tardi and Jason across to North American audiences, and of course he did so much more than that. As the co-publisher of Fantagraphics he was 50% of the greatest comics publisher of all time; without him I would not be doing what I do for a living, in a very real way. His editorial eye, his multilingual translation capabilities, even his jocularly merciless presence in comment-thread debates are irreplaceable. I will miss him, and my heart goes out to those lucky enough to know him better than I did.

Michael Hastings was a fearless reporter who actually damaged the war machine, the highest calling of humanity. I didn’t know him but know and work with many people who did, and to hear them talk about how kind and inspiring he was on a person-to-person basis, quite aside from the importance of his work, has just given me chills. I hope those who knew him and loved him can draw some comfort from the incontrovertibly powerful and positive impact he had on people and the world.

James Gandolfini gave the greatest TV performance of all time on the greatest TV show of all time. He was an absolute marvel of an actor; I can’t think of another performance that influences me on a day to day basis years after watching it like his does. I can hear him say the words “Agent Harris!” like he just said them in my ear; I imagine him reacting to the world to this day, like sharing his enthusiasm for “Game a’ Trones” or something similarly inconsequential, since as an actor he knew that’s where the consequential stuff would emerge. He created a human, and launched a new golden age, and again, I would not be doing what I do but for his work.

Each of these people is an enormously practical loss. Each of them did things that now simply won’t get done. A huge blow to all of us.

“JESUS can we EVER talk about ANYTHING in THIS family besides FOOD”

January 23, 2013

140 things I loved about ‘The Sopranos’

June 10, 2007


1. Paulie saying “You’re a general, T!” to Tony when Tony discovers that Paulie had rescued a painted portrait of Tony with his late horse Pie-Oh-My and had Tony repainted into Napoleon.

2. The scene where a suburban family on a trip into the city gets carjacked by a couple of black guys when pulling out of the parking garage, and their dog runs away chasing the car, and the dad yells “Niggers!” and completely shocks his children, and then we cut to Tony smilingly eying a polaroid of the stolen SUV because it ended up in his crime family’s hands.

3. AJ’s suicide attempt, and Tony rescuing him and telling him “It’s alright, baby. It’s alright.”

4. The ducks leaving the pool.

5. Tony asking Dr. Melfi if anything’s wrong after her rape, and her saying “no.”

6. Adriana begging “please” as she struggles to get away from Silvio when he pulls over in the woods to kill her, and Silvio saying “c’mere, you cunt.”

7. Uncle Junior thinking Larry David and his manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm are he and Bobby Baccala.

8. The glow of the wildfire in the window as Moby’s “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” plays in the background as “Anthony Soprano” sits on his hotel bed during his coma hallucination sequence.

9. Artie Bucco.

10. Tony and Christopher repeating their reminiscence about the van full of wine they hijacked from the bikers, to diminishing returns.

11. The psychiatrist, never seen before or since, who tells Carmela to take the children and run, not walk, away from Tony immediately.

12. “University.”

13. Bobby Baccala telling Uncle Junior, who’s just decided not to support Richie Aprile’s bid for power against Tony, “I’m in awe of you.”

14. Meadow Soprano’s dance in her underwear for Finn to Bill Laswell and William S. Burroughs’s “Seven Souls.”

15. Carmela’s reaction when Tony’s Russian mistress Irina calls and says “I’m the woman who used to fuck your husband.”

16. The Father Phil storyline.

17. The Vito Spatafore storyline.

18. The use of the music of Andrea Boccelli during the Furio/Carmela storyline.

19. Johnny Sack discovering his wife Ginny binge eating, and his genuine devastation as he says “You lied to me!”

20. The quick cut from the old man who reacts to the Tony-ordered shoot-up of an old brownstone by saying “I told you that crack is some bad shit!

21. The quick cut from Patsy Parisi reacting to Tony’s big rousing speech about the need for solidarity in the face of Phil Leotardo and Johnny Sack’s vendetta against Tony B. by saying “Thank you, very much.”

22. The proto-mashup of “The Peter Gunn Theme” and “Every Breath You Take” as the FBI tries to bug Tony’s basement.

23. The Kinks’ “Living on a Thin Line.”

24. Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon’s “World Destruction.”

25. Van Morrison’s “Glad Tidings.”

26. The Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile.”

27. The word-by-word shots of the passages in the study Dr. Melfi’s reading that explain how sociopaths con their therapists, particularly through their sympathy for babies and animals.

28. Vito Spatafore’s interior monologue countdown to his lunch break as he tries to do an honest day’s work on the farm.

29. The look on Tony B.’s dead face.

30. Adriana throwing up all over the table at the FBI office.

31. Burt Gervasi’s terrier barking as Silvio kills him.

32. The hapless landscaper forced into indentured servitude along with his college-kid son thanks to the war between Paulie Walnuts and Feech LaManna.

33. Idiotic Little Carmine actually making the right decision pretty much every time he makes a decision.

34. The fact that Bobby Baccala and Johnny Sack evolved from bit parts into main characters.

35. Gloria Trillo gasping “Kill me! Kill me!”

36. “You shot me in the foot!” “It happens.”

37. The loser in the band that Chris and Adriana are producing shitting all over the Beatles for being so predictable and boring.

38. Hesh dating African-American women exclusively.

39. Uncle Junior crying when Tony asks him if he ever loved him.

40. Finn falling asleep during the marathon argument with Meadow that ends with him proposing to her.

41. The ghostly silhouette of Livia at the Inn at the Oaks during Tony’s coma-hallucination.

42. The name Kevin Finnerty.

43. Phil Leotardo coming out of the closet in Vito’s hotel room.

44. The look on Feech’s face on the bus back to prison.

45. The waiter who Chris and Paulie murder in the parking lot after stiffing him on the tip.

46. The motorcyclist who gets run over during the hit on Silvio and Patsy.

47. The kids crying during the hit on Bobby.

48. “Daddy, they shot me!”

49. Detective Markasian honking and yelling at the traffic on his way to commit suicide.

50. Detective Markasian putting his badge on just before he commits suicide.

51. Eugene Pontecorvo hanging himself.

52. Vito’s son taking a shit in the shower.

53. Ralph Cifaretto yelling “I did nnnnnot! But so what?

54. Agent Harris.

55. Bobby Baccala.

56. The homeless woman with the Daily News stuffed up her ass.

57. Tony curbing Coco.

58. Bobby telling the jury foreman that if he were to convict a man like Junior Soprano, he’d want to put a bullet in his head here, here, and here.

59. Matthew Bevilaqua/Drinkwater.

60. Phil Leotardo saying “No more, Butchie. No more.”

61. JT Dolan telling Christopher “You’re in the Mafia.”

62. Johnny and Ginny Sack’s obviously anorexic daughter exasperatedly demanding “Can this family talk about anything but food?”

63. Johnny crying as they drag him back to prison at his daughter’s wedding.

64. Big Pussy asking Tony if it’s alright to sit down before they kill him.

65. Uncle Junior’s mistress sobbing and screaming “Corrado! Corrado!” after he hits her in the face with the pie and walks out on her.

66. Uncle Junior crying after he hits her in the face with the pie and walks out on her.

67. “The Test Dream.”

68. “It’s all a big nothing.”

69. “Everything turns to shit.”

70. Caitlin, Meadow’s depressed freshman-year roommate.

71. Finn looking over and seeing Vito pop up from blowing the security guard.

72. Furio’s rampage in the massage parlor.

73. Kennedy and Heidi.

74. Sil, Bobby, and Tony shadowboxing when the music from Raging Bull starts playing in the restaurant where they’re discussing going to war against Phil.

75. Bobby’s death scene.

76. Paulie killing his mother’s friend.

77. Adriana talking about how nice it is that Matush is sending money back to fund schools for boys in Pakistan.

78. Big Pussy bragging about going down on his Dominican mistress, and Tony asking “Hey Puss–did she really even exist?”

79. Tracee brining Tony baked goods while topless, with a smile full of braces.

80. All the malapropisms, from “my knight in white satin armor” to “irregardless” to “at the precipice of a crossroad” to “prostate with grief” to “mayham.”

81. Janice’s Rolling Stones tattoo.

82. The dream version of Detective Makasian sining “Three Times a Lady” to Annette Benning.

83. Tony beating the shit out of his driver just to show he’s still got it.

84. The Scautino bust-out.

85. Big Pussy running over the cyclist as he attempts to tail another gangster on behalf of his FBI contacts.

86. The dream-fish Big Pussy telling Tony that his fellow fish are asleep.

87. Carmela’s speech to comatose Tony in the hospital.

88. Tony punching through the wall during the big fight with Carmela.

89. “It’s just that ‘remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”

90. Dumping the asbestos in the middle of nowhere.

91. Livia smiling as they wheel her away from Tony.

92. The murder of naked Lorraine.

93. Tony having sex with Charmaine Bucco as Artie cheers them on in a dream.

94. The pervasive racism.

95. Tony B. zooming in on Carmela’s ass as he videotapes their pool party.

96. “Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this.”

97. The whole series from “University” onwards.

98. “In the end, you die in your own arms.”

99. The opening credits.

100. The fact that we knew Tony’s captain Ray Curto was wearing a wire for like two seasons, but because he wasn’t a main character no one paid any attention to it and focused on Adriana instead, and then when they finally brought it up again he had a heart attack and died in the FBI agent’s car.

101. Carmela’s philistinism.

102. AJ giving the bike to the hoodlums outside Blanca’s apartment.

103. AJ’s therapist asking him why he’s depressed, and him responding “How could anyone not be?”

104. “I get it! I get it!”

105. The look in Tony’s eyes as he kills Christopher.

106. “Fucking D-girl!” “Hey! I am a vice-president!

107. Johnny Boy Soprano’s mistress singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to Tony.

108. Ralphie’s “collegiate” look.

109. “You let him hold a gun to your head during sex?” “It’s not like it’s loaded.”

110. Dr. Elliot Kupferberg.

111. “Fuck Ben Kingsley! Danny Baldwin just took him to acting school!”

112. Cosette.

113. Paulie asking Big Pussy in his dream “When my time comes, will I stand up?”

114. The handheld camera during “Chasing It.”

115. The rocking of the boat during Tony and Paulie’s fishing trip.

116. The Tindersticks’ “Tiny Tears.”

117. The episode that used a song from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II over the closing credits.

118. Ralphie running across the yard after his son gets shot in the head with the arrow.

119. Chris explaining his tardiness to a meeting: “Sorry, T–the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.”

120. The fact that Frank Vincent was on the show.

121. Melfi reverse-Godfathering Tony by closing the door on him.

122. Bobby refusing to defrost his late wife’s last meal.

123. Tony goading Janice to break her anger-management routine just because.

124. Ralphie’s Gladiator obsession.

125. The art direction for the promo materials from Season Two onwards.

126. Calling the last episode “Made in America.”

127. Playing that commercial with Abe Lincoln and the talking beaver in the mental ward where AJ is institutionalized.

128. Hesh’s description of Livia: “Between her brain and her mouth, there was no interlocutor.”

129. Tony Soprano.

130. “Poor you.”

131. Butchie accidentally wandering from Little Italy into Chinatown as he wraps up his phonecall to end the war.

132. Agent Harris: “We’re gonna win this thing!”

133. Phil gootchie-gootchie-gooing his twin grandbabies at the gas station.

134. The guy who pukes when the SUV rolls over Phil’s head.

135. Meadow telling Tony how the government and FBI discriminate against Italian Americans, and Tony replying, “Well…”

136. Meadow parallel parking.

137. The man in the Members Only jacket.

138. “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

139. “Don’t stop—”

140. Cut to black.