Monday, March 06, 2006

The Sopranos - Season 4

The fourth season of The Sopranos is generally thought of as the weakest of the series to date because it largely left behind the mob storylines and focused more on the personal relationships between the characters. In particular, an emphasis is placed on the marriage of Tony and Carmela, which, of course, disintegrates at the end of the season in the seminal episode Whitecaps.

Watched in a huge gulp, however, season 4 works much better. When it first aired in 2002, it must have seemed langourous and methodical (and it IS much more slowly paced than the other seasons), but it's moving to its own, deliberate beat. Part of this is probably the decision by David Chase to NOT wrap everything up in the fourth season (as was rumored before any production began in earnest). Part of it is probably the creative freedom afforded to him by the incredible ratings the show was garnering at the time (still the highest of any cable series ever).

Chase has always been ambivalent about the role television has played in his life. For the creator of one of the best TV series of all time, he seems awfully chagrined by that fact. He has made no bones about his desire to work in film instead of television (and seems ready to move on once The Sopranos wraps up next January). The irony, of course, is that the epic scope of The Sopranos has offered him an opportunity to examine issues that even the best films have trouble dealing with in their limited time frames.

Take, for example, the central thrust of this season: the marriage. Few American films have managed to capture marriage in all of its many subtleties and nuances. Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" did so, of course, but that was a LONG movie. And it, of course, started as a television series.

The Sopranos offered us an attempt over its run to see just how fragile a marriage really is and how compromises are made (often large one) to keep some of the fallacies in place that keep any good marriage alive. If any of these compromises are attacked, the whole thing can come crumbling down in an afternoon.

But Whitecaps wouldn't have had the power it had if it hadn't come after four seasons of television. It works only BECAUSE of investment in the characters. It wouldn't have worked as a film.

I'm talking about Whitecaps as if it were the sum total of the season, but there's a lot of other good stuff here. The Pie-O-My saga works better than it did when first viewed, and Whoever Did This is another powerhouse episode. The show deals well with 9/11 and the more introspective mood in America following that event (even if it has to fudge its internal timeline to do so).

But while season 4 is the home of one of the series' best episodes, it also holds the absolute worst: Christopher. But we'll talk about that in a (hopefully) upcoming feature called "When Bad Episodes Happen to Good Shows."

In the meantime, do you like these season reviews? Once I'm done with Sopranos, I could do more for other shows. Let me know what you think.

Sometime this week: The differences between American TV and films and why American TV is slightly better in many ways.


David Sims said...

Hey loser, I'm LOVING these season reviews. So much so that I started re-watching the Sopranos myself and I'm enjoying it immensely (on season 3 at the moment). I demand you do the same for Gilmore Girls next! As I am doing the same thing with that!

Chopped Nuts said...

Keep 'em coming. It's cool getting a perspective other than one's own, coming from someone who has the same goals and tastes (we dig the same shows, we does). Plus you write real 'purty.