Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Sopranos - Seasons 2 and 3


In my time away, I've picked my way through seasons 2 and 3 of this seminal series. Most people tend to hold season 2 in high regard. I never really did, and I'm not sure why. Season 3 seems to be the second-most divisive one after season 4, and I can kind of see why, but I still greatly enjoy it.

I had forgotten, however, just how FUNNY season 2 was. The show has always been shot through with humor, but the first half of season 2, which is when life is going its best for most of the characters, is full of episodes that border on dramedy rather than tragedy.

It might seem odd to have a series about the Mafia that's this bracingly amusing, but I think it makes the show feel more real. To be fair, things like A.J.'s discovery of existentialism feel tacked on, but they're done so winningly that they come off as more hilarious than they probably have a right to be. Of course, Chase had his first job on The Rockford Files, one of the seminal dramedies out there, and he was on the writing staff of Northern Exposure from the beginning (which is a show I really must revisit sometime, what with my obsession with small town shows and all).

Then, of course, the season takes a turn for the tragic, and Tony must kill one of his very best friends in another of the show's gorgeously constructed season finales. I don't know if David Chase had an overall plan for the show when he began it, but this indicates that the show will play for keeps and developments will arise logically out of previous ones, something that was occasionally lacking on TV in the past (it's getting better in this regard).

Season 3 is held in higher regard than it maybe needs to be by me because of how the show adapted to an unfortunate situation (Nancy Marchand's death removed the most obvious antagonist in Tony's biological family). The mob stuff remained intact, but it could have been easy to let the family stuff suffer without the linchpin of Tony's mother there to stir the pot from time to time.

However, the writers were crafty enough to simply exacerbate already existing conflicts within the family unit. Carmela feels more of a conflict between her faith and what her husband does for a living (putting a wedge between the two). Meadow becomes more vocal about what she doesn't like about her father. A.J. becomes an even bigger brat. And so on.

These conflicts were always there, but with his mother alive, Tony had much bigger things to focus on in the family realm. Without her, it becomes a free-for-all. Once again, everything feels organic.

And that's not even touching on Tony's mistress Gloria, who most resembles his mother out of all of the characters psychologically. Chase is able to resurrect his old conflict and push it into a new context through this device.

The mob side also benefits from the introduction of Joe Pantoliano's Ralph Cifaretto, who throws Tony into a moral and ethical tailspin. Ralph's presence drives Tony to question most of his life, and this provides another conflict the show had not had before.

Season 3 is decidedly uneven, but it's one of television's best examples of taking lemons and making lemonade.

Tomorrow: Why it's silly to blame the Oscars for nominating unpopular movies (hint: Oscar's tastes haven't changed; the public's have). And some other things.

As always, if you want me to cover something in particular, please tell me in the comments.

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