Damn you all to

The easiest way to tell that The Sopranos is a great show is that so far, the second season has been really good, and I’m disappointed by it. Everything that’s bugging me about it is a barely-perceptible nitpick, and each point is noticeable only because the first season set the bar so high.

Like the character of Tony’s sister Janice. She stands out as a stereotype in a series full of stereotypes — they start out laying the West Coast hippie drop-out schtick on really thick, and so far anyway, they haven’t really let up. It really shows what a remarkable thing they’ve done with the rest of the characters: they’re all stereotypes who can be easily summed up in a brief character description, but they seem real. Like real people who just tend to revert back into their predictable roles, either because it’s easier, or because they just don’t know any better.

It’s kind of the same thing with the character of Christopher, who’s transforming from a screw-up into just a frustrating screw-up. It could just be because the actor seems too smart to be doing the things his character does (his allegiance to Toshiba and HD-DVD notwithstanding). They cast a lot of young street thugs on the show, and they work because they do stupid things and they just look stupid. But Christopher just seems like he’s doing idiotic stuff because the script’s telling him to. And for all I know, that’s exactly where they’re going with the character; maybe I’m supposed to be frustrated.

And my last nitpick at the moment is a particularly unfair one, because it’s about a great scene. (Big spoilers for seasons 1 & 2 coming…) There’s a scene where Dr. Melfi has a guilt-induced nightmare about Tony Soprano having a blackout and wrecking his car. It’s perfectly paced and edited into the episode, it’s perfectly shot, and the choice of music (from The Wizard of Oz) is perfect. It’s really a creepy scene. But I knew within seconds that it was a dream, and that it was Dr. Melfi’s dream.

And that’s only a “problem” because the next-to-last episode of season 1 had the most brilliant fake-out I’ve ever seen on a TV show. It’s basically an hour-long con that I fell for completely. Every time I was supposed to believe I was one step ahead of the writers, I did; they played me like a cheap fiddle. By the final reveal, I couldn’t say anything other than “holy shit I can’t believe they just did that.”

But of course, that only works once, and every dream sequence afterwards is suspect. I’m still intrigued with the show, and I’m definitely still watching — I’ve been blown away so far, and the big surprising moments that have already been spoiled for me, haven’t even happened yet. Still, I can’t help feeling like I hit a peak, and I’m coasting downhill from here on out. More updates as the situation and my Netflix queue progresses.

And speaking of being spoiled for The Sopranos, David Chase gets +100 coolness points for this quote about the series finale at a recent awards show:

I really wasn’t going to go into it, but I’ll just say this…when I was going to Stanford University’s graduate film school and was 23 [years old], I went to see Planet of the Apes with my wife. When it was over, I said, ‘Wow … so they had a Statue of Liberty, too.’

Reading stuff like that in the context of the Sopranos is almost unnerving; you get the impression of someone who’s in total control of his art, who’s making exactly what he wants to make, with no guesswork.

And one last shallow observation: watching the series has made me see a common thread among the shows I like. At least for dramas, a show only gets me hooked if there’s some element of the supernatural, or at least the “unreal.” Battlestar Galactica has been (rightly) praised for its realism, but it never really grabbed me until they started with all of the prophecies and Lords of Kobol. Lost had me from the start, then lost me the further they got away from smoke monsters and Walt’s powers. Alias always had Rambaldi, The X-Files was The X-Files and Buffy was always Buffy. I probably would’ve started with The Sopranos sooner if I’d known it wasn’t just a New Jersey mobster seeing a psychiatrist, but was filled with dreams and omens and delusions and a bunch of consummate storytellers who have absolutely no qualms about messing with their audience’s head.