Monday, March 13, 2006

"The Sopranos" and "Big Love"

The Sopranos season premiere tonight was excellent in every way, making it hard to evaluate in a fashion that does it justice. For most of the show's life, I've had a hard time avoiding running comparisons to Goodfellas and Casino and the Godfather movies. Now I think that the show has not only commented on, swam in, and satirized the mafia genre, but built on it in a way that's achieved something singular and unrepeatable. Once this show is gone, it's going to be hard for anyone to succeed in making a mob movie or TV show again -- the genre has been deconstructed, dissected, and elevated.

I also liked that the season began with the truism about no one ever going broke underestimating the taste of the American public. What was David Chase saying about the show with that bit of dialogue? And was the opening sequence not the best exposition montage ever? It got better from there. In the past, the show has been a little heavyhanded with its existentialism, but not tonight. Death of a Salesman came to mind.

Big Love, by contrast, does not look promising. I watched with a friend who was incredulous that women as smart and worldly as the ones in the show would succumb to a polygamous marriage. He has a point, but I'm willing to buy the premise as much as I'm willing to believe that someone like Nate Fisher would work in a funeral home. The bigger problem with the show is that it seems preoccupied with obvious jokes about the jealousies that come from such an arrangement. Its execution was not clever and aside from the oddity of their situation, the characters were not interesting. They're dull people. The show is Three's Company, but not funny.

The scenes set in the backwater fundamentalist compound were well-done and intriguing, and familiar to anyone who's read Under the Banner of Heaven. The cast is stellar, but as good as Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, and Mary Kay Place are, the sum of this show is much less than its parts. I watched and waited, hoping for something to happen, looking for a reason to be enthusiastic. There wasn't one, and the preview for next week's show was not promising -- more petty jealousy and libido gags. Ha.

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