Ah, salute!

I spent the better part of my precious TV time during the last couple months watching The Sopranos. This was my first time watching what is now arguably one of the most iconic shows of the last 20 years.

I’m an avid fan of HBO, but I didn’t watch The Sopranos while it was on for two reasons: it was a little before my time, and until recently when I got my own place I didn’t have premium channels or Netflix.

To be honest, I initially had my doubts. I’m not a huge fan of gangster genre films like Scarface, and I was thinking The Sopranos would fit the genre mold. I liked The Godfather, but that is just a great movie, whether you like the genre or not.

It turned out that The Sopranos is a lot like The Godfather in that way. It’s a well-done, intriguing story about the mafia, but it is also about being an (Italian) American, being a parent, being a son or daughter, being married, growing old, dealing with death – when it comes down to it it’s about the life of a family. It strikes me that this comment is remarkably similar to my assessment of another HBO show, Big Love. Perhaps this is what HBO does best – presenting viewers with themes they can relate to, wrapped in a fancy package like the mafia or polygamy.

Throughout six seasons, the quality of the show never faltered, and there are some superb acting, directing and writing talents on display throughout. Particularly, the three main characters played by James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. There were many deaths, but they never ceased to be shocking, poignant and memorable. Take the deaths of Ralph or Johnny Sack or Chris, for example. Then there are the interpersonal moments between the characters – the heated arguments between Tony and Carmilla that led up to their separation, Tony’s visit to Junior in the state nursing home, or Tony’s frantic rescue of AJ from the pool and resulting devastation over his mental state.

A lot of people complain about the series finale, “Made in America.” Perhaps I have the luxury of being detached from the hype of the time it aired, but I was satisfied with it. Ultimately, it is hard to end an epic, long-running show.

Although there is a lot of debate about what exactly happened after the screen went to black, I believe Tony was killed by the suspicious fellow at the bar, and possibly his family was caught in the crossfire, as often happened when someone was killed on the show. This notion is somewhat sad, but it is realistic given the preceding episodes. And to be honest, by the time the finale came, I felt like Tony, Carmilla, Meadow and AJ were all responsible, to varying degrees, for the deaths of innocent people. If they were not directly involved (as was the case with Tony), they were complacent. However, even though their characters were irreparably tarnished, I would not have wanted to see their deaths played out on screen in the gruesome manner of, say Phil Leotardo. In other words, the ending satisfied my need to have The Soprano family reap what they sowed, while preserving my feelings.

To wrap this post up, I cannot overstate how excellent, and entertaining, this series was. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

Thoughts on a monarch

Henry VIII has aged noticeably at the end of The Tudors.

Now that True Blood is back, I am forced to DVR The Tudors and watch it on the Monday following its airing. So forgive my delayed reaction to this week’s episode.

Henry VIII is now noticeably aged, with graying hair and beard as well as a more gravelly voice. His leg injury also seems to be more intense. Perhaps it is this old wound coupled with his loss of the war in France that has made him so incredibly bitter, cruel and uncompromising. Or maybe it is simply the sum of a life lived without fear of repercussions.

Often on this blog I have lauded the well-written anti-hero – Walter Bishop, Dexter, Tony Soprano and Eric of True Blood, for example, are all so complex. The anti-hero can often be very cruel, but he can also be kind. Perhaps there was a time, early on in The Tudors, when Henry also possessed some of these qualities. However, at this point in the show there is little to like about him, and I find it impossible to sympathize with him. As I’ve mentioned before, just watching some of the scenes of torture and imprisonment give me a newfound respect for my constitutional rights. This week was no exception – the torture and execution of Anne Askew as well as the unjust trial and sentencing of the Earl of Surrey were two of the darkest moments on the show to date.

This final season of The Tudors has explored in-depth the darkness of Henry’s nature and the corrupting influence of absolute power. We have seen him use and destroy his wives, friends and political allies for his own ends, which range from advancing his political agenda to his petty whims.

In its four seasons, this show has given its audience a lot to think about. As we approach the series finale on Sunday, I say kudos to the writers, directors and actors for making such a deep show. It is not a rollicking good time – it is an ever-evolving, insightful character study of an oft-documented and much-debated historical figure.

They’ve got character

Buffy, you'll always be number one in my heart.

Entertainment Weekly published its list of the top 100 greatest characters of the past 20 years. In some instances, I would have done some rearranging and there are a few characters I would have added, but I thought it was a pretty good list. You can see the entire countdown here, but these were the top 10:

  1. Homer Simpson from The Simpsons
  2. Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series
  3. Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  4. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos
  5. The Joker from The Dark Knight
  6. Rachel Green from Friends
  7. Edward Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands
  8. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs
  9. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City
  10. SpongeBob SquarePants from SpongeBob SquarePants

I was really happy to see Buffy at number three. More than a decade later this is still my favorite show of all time, and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s quintessential grrl power character is to this day my hero. Now that I’m watching The Sopranos, I can also see the validity of placing Tony Soprano high on the list. Love or hate him, he is quite the character, and the first in a long line of boundary-pushing antiheroes, including some of my personal favorites, Dexter and Jack Bauer – who both made the list, but are farther down.

In the top 10 I was less thrilled with The Joker – it’s a great character and an excellent portrayal on the part of Heath Ledger, but just not worthy of the top 10 in my mind. Also, to the chagrin of legions of Friends fans, I would not have placed Rachel so high either. I enjoy Jennifer Anniston in the occasional romcom, but just was never that big of a fan of the show.

There are others on the list who I am no fan of (ahem, Carrie Bradshaw), but can see why they earned a place. I don’t watch the Simpsons, but can certainly appreciate the longevity, influence and ubiquitous nature of Homer’s character. Similarly, I see the rationale for Harry Potter. Although I think if Harry is going to be this high on the list, perhaps the Twilight characters (Edward is at #53) should also be pulled up a little.

Others, not in the top 10, who I was glad to see recognized include Mulder and Scully, The Dude, Beavis and Butthead, Cher, Sarah Connor, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Ron Burgundy, John Locke, David Brent, Tyler Durden and The Bride. What do you think of the list?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I started watching the first season of The Sopranos.

I have to apologize, dear readers, for my sporadic posting behavior as of late. The simple fact of the matter is that I am in a bit of a TV dead zone, as the normal seasons of all the shows I watch have wrapped, and I am waiting for the summer shows to start. To pass the time, I’ve been watching movies, most recently Night of the Creeps. But I digress – this is a TV blog, after all.

A couple weeks ago, I started watching The Sopranos on HBO On Demand. I’ve also been watching the final season of the Tudors on Showtime (which took a break for the Memorial Day holiday). I’m a little more than half-way through the first season of The Sopranos, which I have been meaning to watch for a couple years now. So far, it’s a pretty good watch – James Gandolfini (as Tony Soprano) is excellent, as are Lorraine Bracco (as Dr. Jennifer Melfi) and Edie Falco (as Carmela Soprano). At times, the actors who play the Soprano kids are a little annoying, but that is forgivable. I didn’t know if I would like Falco’s character, as I was never very impressed with Nurse Jackie (in spite of the wealth of critical acclaim it has garnered), but it turns out she is really quite good in this role. She portrays the wife of a mobster with complexity, and avoids the overdone clichés of such a role.

Of course, I am counting down the days for the premiere of True Blood (only 10 days left) and enjoying all of the promos HBO has been putting out for that. The newest trailer is awesome, and all of the minisodes have been really cool. I have to admit, I had little faith in these shorts, but they have been worth watching every week. My favorite is still the first one, in which Eric and Pam audition strippers for Fangtasia. Alas, even with all of the trailers, minisodes, and posters, waiting still sucks.

I’ll also be watching season 2 of Being Human on BBC, starting July 24, as well as the sophomore season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy. What will you be watching this summer?