POP CUL­TURE

Ottawa Sun - - SHOWBIZ - STEPHEN L. CARTER

f you have some free time over this week­end, I sug­gest that you spend it in New Jersey — specif­i­cally, North Caldwell, New Jersey, long­time home of An­thony and Carmela So­prano.

This sum­mer marked the 10th an­niver­sary of the show’s in­fa­mous “blank screen” end­ing, and so, not hav­ing tuned in for a while, I set my­self the task of watch­ing the en­tire series, in or­der. What be­gan as a project swiftly be­came a labour of love, and then I had to force my­self to slow down, lest I fin­ish too fast.

I had for­got­ten what a truly mag­nif­i­cent work of art showrun­ner David Chase achieved. The So­pra­nos is widely cred­ited with kick­ing off the era of “pres­tige tele­vi­sion.” It’s easy to see why. The writ­ing was witty yet earthy (re­ally, re­ally earthy), the char­ac­ters were be­liev­able, the act­ing was uni­formly out­stand­ing, and the nar­ra­tive it­self be­gan as en­gross­ing and swiftly be­came com­pelling.

With its cen­tral tale of a trou­bled mob boss see­ing a psy­chi­a­trist to un­der­stand why he suf­fered panic at­tacks and was so an­gry all the time, The So­pra­nos sounds like a dark com­edy. That’s how it was orig­i­nally con­ceived, and even as the story be­gan to get se­ri­ous, the hu­mour was al­ways there. The fam­ily re­la­tion­ships were trag­i­cally fa­mil­iar: Tony and his mon­ster of a mother, Tony and his wily un­cle, Tony and his re­bel­lious chil­dren, and, most im­por­tant, Tony and his wife, who grew in the course of the series from the en­abler who loved the jew­els and large house that her hus­band’s business pro­vided to the trou­bled, de­fi­ant moral cen­tre of the tale.

The So­pra­nos fa­mously pi­o­neered both the gore and the ex­plicit sex that have be­come the norm on pres­tige TV, and pre­cisely be­cause the show was first, all that blood and sex seems a lit­tle tame. The show also pi­o­neered the will­ing­ness to kill off fa­mil­iar and even beloved char­ac­ters, of­ten with no warn­ing, and un­like so much of to­day’s tele­vi­sion, kept on killing them as the end drew near.

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