Oh boy, here we go. The manliest show on my admittedly effeminate list (so far), and I've got it four spots lower than most people would say it belongs. In fact, when I told some of my chimp friends (as opposed to my knitting circle friends) that I was doing this list, the sentiment from most of them was, "Number one's gotta be The Sopranos, right?"
Nope. And I'm going to do something counter-intuitive here. Instead of making a case for how good it is, I'm going to take the decidedly odd tact of pointing out what's wrong with it.
Just to stifle potential apoplexy, I like all the things about it that everyone else does: The great dialogue, authenticity, violence, characterization, and the fact that almost anything about the mob is entertaining. Oh yeah, and that it pretty much single-handedly changed television is kinda important too, I guess. There are other shows I've mentioned that wouldn't have been made without the success of The Sopranos; Rescue Me and The Shield come to mind.
So it's great, ok? But here are three things I didn't like about it:
1. The interminable wait between seasons. Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities one chapter at a time, week after week, in a London newspaper. Now that's a guy who knows how to keep momentum. David Chase could've taken a page out of Dickens' book (Zing!).
By the time a new season started, I'd lost all excitement and anticipation I'd built up from the end of the last one. I couldn't remember who was mad at whom for doing what. Remember, this isn't a a movie franchise. You can spend two hours with Batman Begins to get you pumped and ready for The Dark Knight. Due to The Sopranos' labyrinthine story lines, you almost have to watch the whole season to refresh your memory.
A year-and-a-half is too long between tv seasons. Period. And having to read about all the dopey contract struggles in the meantime only made matters worse.
Side note: I'm not sure of the last time I was more pumped for a movie than I am for Bale vs. Ledger this Spring.
2. Speaking of those curvy, complex character arcs and plot lines, count me among the myriad people who were constantly asking on Monday mornings: "Wait. Who is Alfredo, again? Are we supposed to know him?" Especially toward the end of its run, Chase's hubris at times exceeded his storytelling ability. There were lots of minor characters that weren't developed enough so that the audience was on a first name basis with them, and yet their names were often bandied about as if they were people we should be intimately familiar with.
There are defenders of this show who think the whole thing was all genius and insist that intelligent viewers who paid attention were always able to discern and digest the minutie of every conversation. Well, I saw every episode, and I consider myself fairly intelligent (I have a college degree and use words like "minutie" in everyday speech), and I was often confused. I wasn't alone.
3. My last point is purely subjective. You know how if you're really not expecting much out of a movie that's gotten pretty bad buzz, but you pop it in, and you're pleasantly surprised because it's better than you thought it was going to be?
Well, The Sopranos was the exact opposite of that for me. As I've already stated, I really liked the show. It's in my top five, for pete's sake. But some people just WILL NOT SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW GREAT IT IS. Look, I get it. It's art. The acting's amazing. It's revolutionary. But it is not without flaws. Nothing is. After awhile, I felt like if it came out that David Chase actually wrote Godfather III, people would have re-examined it as a masterpiece. All the hype made me like it a little bit less. Not enough to cause visceral hatred of it like I have for Titanic, Chicago, or American Idol, but enough to bump it down a bit for me.
I know you were expecting me to bag on the ending for my last point. Well, to quote Dana Carvey quoting George H.W. Bush: "Not...gonna...dah-it." Although I thought that the abrupt and excessive blackness was a perfect example of Chase being too clever for his own good, I didn't have a problem with the ambiguity of the ending, or the entire scene up until that point. The point of that episode was that nothing had really changed for these fundamentally immoral/dysfunctional people, and never would. In that way, it was a lot like the much-maligned Seinfeld finale, which I thought was much better than it was given credit for.
Oh, one last complaint about The Sopranos: Although we were often treated to the silicon-enhanced talents of the females in the employ of the Bada Bing, it was rare that a feature character took the plunge. Meadow? Adriana? Hell, I would've taken Carmela.