May 8, 2006

"Sopranos," "Big Love."

I don't much like the burden of watching two dramas back to back, but that's how HBO got us interested in "Big Love," and now it's a weekly assignment. I could save one to watch on the rerun, but so far I haven't. Last week, I watched part of each show and bailed out on both. I thought I'd pick them up later in the week but never did. I just paid a lot of attention to the clips at the beginning of the show.

"The Sopranos" last week was devoted to two characters I never cared much about, AJ and Vito. (And let me just say that I think the whole Vito-is-gay story is an incredibly lame attempt to cook up a story for a character.) This week, however, was devoted to my favorite character, Christopher, and to one of the best secondary characters, Paulie. There was some tremendous drama (Tony and Christopher in the basement) and some fabulous comedy ("Where's the hat?"). And some perfect small doses of Janice and Carmela.

I'm a little ambivalent about "Big Love." I'm of two minds about this show about having three wives. The negative for me is that it's too much about financial problems, which I don't find entertaining. Roman is a great evil character, but he's operating mostly through financial methods, and then we have to watch Bill worry about financial problems. They try to make financial problems interesting by timing how characters find out they have financial problems and creating conflict between characters who find out about financial problems at different times. You knew and didn't tell me? At least, during one of the conflicts, Bill dug a big hole in the yard -- not a grave, a lobster pit -- and lit it into a blazing fire -- symbolizing Hell?

I did like the subplot with Margene: the squeaky clean nice neighbors, who think she's a widow, ask her to dinner and then spring a squeaky clean young man on her, and he promptly falls in love with her. She has to tell him she has "her eyes on someone else" and, as he retreats into the pouring rain, we think, no, someone else has his eyes on her. Escape Margene, escape!

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has a long post all about the wine that Tony and Christopher stole, from the details on what it's worth (much more than Chrissie sold his for) to advice that storing the wine near a washing machine is a bad idea (vibrations!).

31 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

Let me just add that I think Christopher is going to be charged with murder for the shooting during the wine robbery. Wine is his downfall, and not just because he's an alcoholic. He sold his cases of wine, because he didn't want the temptation back into his addiction, but who bought it? All those distinctive bottles floating around out in the world, waiting to tie him back to the crime! But it was interesting, wasn't it, the way Tony and Christopher got off on being petty criminals together and then bonded over the memories? And now Chris's downfall could be this miserable petty crime.

Paulie going back to his nonmother was a nicely dramatized announcement of his doom.

John Henry said...

Re Vito:

Did you know he is now the celebrity spokesperson for Hoodia 57?

Everyone is getting plenty of Hoodia spam in their inbox, right?

I found out about it while watching NHRA drag racing last night. His company is sponsoring a car (which one I have no idea) and they interviewed him on camera. It was his first drag race but he loved it.

I too have no idea where the Sopranos is going with that story line on Vito.

But it seems very lame to me.

John Henry

Dave said...

What struck me is the way Tony was with Janice's daughter toward the end.

It seemed very reminiscent of Marlon Brando playing with the little kid right before he croaked in the Godfather.

As for Christopher and Tony bonding--when did it become "petty crime" to shoot someone (or, possibly, kill someone)?

Finally, Big Love: I just want these characters to get angry and show some f*cking emotion! Are all Mormons emotionless automatons? Are they all repressed? One gets that feeling from this show. Though of course it makes no sense to generalize from one family, it is nonetheless annoying, all the sedulous earnestness. (And yes I realize that's repetitive and redundant.)

Irene Done said...

I may be overthinking here but when Tony went over to Janice's daughter and playing, I thought it was because he was the only one who really understood what she wanted -- she wanted to be tossed around. She wanted back on the dangerous ride. Just like Tony was giddy after stealing the wine (that lost its pop after the thrill of the crime had past). Days later, he realizes he's bored.

I thought one theme last night was how people want to get back on their dangerous rides -- Christopher back on drugs and Tony enjoying the wine robbery. They know it's wrong, they know they should have loftier goals (a clean house for the kids) but they miss the thrill.

Ann Althouse said...

Irene: Excellent analysis.

Dave: "What struck me is the way Tony was with Janice's daughter toward the end..."

I thought Tony would keel over (sick, dizzy, bad ankle) and the kid would be killed in the fall. Well, I thought the kid would be killed as soon as Janice set her down and said look at her walk.

"As for Christopher and Tony bonding--when did it become "petty crime" to shoot someone (or, possibly, kill someone)?"

In the sense that it's not the Mafia, the crime the whole show has been about and that the FBI is concerned with. The local authorities would handle it.

"I just want these characters to get angry and show some f*cking emotion!"

Well, Bill was losing it. And Nicki got pretty emotional. I think we'll get to see them crack one by one. The major characters, that is. The lady across the street will never change. What's her name? Gladys Kravitz?

Dave said...

I didn't watch much of Big Love last night, so glad to hear that they're emotional.

You should check out the show Huff on Showtime, tho it's on at the same time as Big Love. I find that show much more interesting.

JodyTresidder said...

Re: "Sopranos". Has a fairground ever been used as a benign mise-en-scene in a film? I mean, ever!
I thought it brilliantly unsettling.

To Irene: I don't think it is possible to "overthink" last night's "Sopranos". I saw it more as everyone's inner imps biting them - no doubt with a catastrophic payoff coming. But as usual, I can't predict which direction it will come from.
I notice Tony has casually broken a Mafia covenant with John-in-jail, Paulie has severed one with the "real" Capo (God) by refusing to pay off the priest and Carmella is still deeply bothered by Adrianna's "disappearance". Her doubts on this score have been raised too many times by the writers for it to be a red herring?
The only thing I can predict is that Chris won't be playing happy families with his new wife for long. (Not even sure of that, frankly).

Coco said...

Random toughts:

The filming of the scene with Tony swirling around his niece was really, really well done. Beautiful looking and used nicely to convey several possibile storyline events. I too thought Tony was going to faint or have a heart attack or something else.

Same with the end scene where Paulie goes home to be with his "mom." Becuase he's so scared about his prostate, and is otherwise so alone...no one else really cares.....that sitting in a nursing home with a woman he hates watching some accordionists on the Lawrence Welk show is nonetheless the most comforting thing he has available to him. That little scene with just a few words conveyed so much more than most dramas would allow it to do.

Rick Lee said...

"I thought one theme last night was how people want to get back on their dangerous rides" Very, very good Irene.

I disagree about the Vito storyline. I appreciate it. I think it's part of an opposing theme of wanting to GET OFF of the dangerous ride. Tony decided not to have an adulterous affair. Tony really doesn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. Vito is discovering what it would be like to be part of a community of good people. He's seeing the other side of the coin of mob life... the victim's side.

PatCA said...

I did wonder about the wine--on one hand, it shows that the mob has really gone upper middle class, all soft and bobo, but Christopher's $300 price reveals that he at least is not quite a yuppie yet. Well, that and the guzzling!

Judging from the previews, something is going to happen to Tony, and I think the Godfather-like scene with the niece presages his demise. Sopranos, like all opera, is about dissolution, not integration, so I think we're watching all the major characters blink hard as this narrow, fragile world falls apart.

PatCA said...

Oh, and Big Love...

I do save that for later because to me it's just kind of empty. I know what Dave means, I think, about emotion. These are not characters so much as Issues, and they do not pull me in, except for Margene. I never get the feeling I'm watching polygamists, or weird or devout religionists, or anything except another domestic drama of a guy with a complicated life.

Dave said...

The only part of Bainbridge's post that I understood was the money.

That's not a knock against Bainbridge. I just don't understand any of the words wine afficianados use to describe it, at least when they are used in the context of describing wine.

("Full-bodied" to me evokes Rosanne Barr, not fluid, etc.)

Rick Lee said...

Oh... I forgot to mention that we started the series with that character who wanted to "retire" from the life and move to Florida... and that Chris wants to get into the movie business. That first character had to kill himself and Chris isn't doing to well getting into a more legitimate realm.

Rick Lee said...

BTW... my favorite line of the episode "I believe that every day is a gift... they just don't all have to be a pair of socks".

Ann Althouse said...

Rick: I agree with your perception of the theme and that it's excellent, but I hate the form the theme takes in the Vito story. It's just preposterous. It's not cutting edge, but horribly stale to just make a masculine character gay, and all the stuff about him showing his sensitive side is just stupid. He's gay, so he's interested in interior decoration?

I liked the "every day is a gift" line too, and it was a little out of place coming from Tony, because he's not exactly a great wit, but James Gandolfini made it believable.

More importantly, why was Dr. Melfi wearing long pants? I thought half the point of Dr. Melfi was her nyloned legs.

amba said...

let me just say that I think the whole Vito-is-gay story is an incredibly lame attempt to cook up a story for a character.

Well, but: the odds are overwhelming that such a thing has really happened, that someone on the writing staff has personal knowledge of it.

And: I laughed hard, athough with horror, at the goombahs' primitive and violent reactions to the news. That story has made possible some of the simultaneously most comical and most appalling portrayals of mob culture.

I do agree that David Chase is verging on the preachy with this story. Let us not forget that Vito himself would probably have been more than willing to murder to keep his secret. At the same time, it's a fair portrayal of the suffering of someone with a same-sex orientation in a culture where that's violently taboo. A lot of viewers apparently found it revolting when Vito lay down in a field with a man -- revealing the persistence of the very taboo the story's about. It would be possible to find it touching.

How to put this -- it's interesting that Tony's hybrid of harsh realism with "enlightened" new-age pabulim is in a strange way more attractive than either of its "parents."

amba said...

Pabulum.

Ann Althouse said...

Amba: "At the same time, it's a fair portrayal of the suffering of someone with a same-sex orientation in a culture where that's violently taboo. A lot of viewers apparently found it revolting when Vito lay down in a field with a man -- revealing the persistence of the very taboo the story's about. It would be possible to find it touching."

Oh, please, it's Vito. Nothing about him is touching. No one wants to see him having sex with anybody, male or female. So he has sex with a male and we're disgusted and we're supposed to feel ashamed of ourselves for not accepting gay people? It's Vito. Why on earth would him getting in touch with his sexual feelings be touching -- or even interesting? We're being expected to suspend normal judgment to demonstrate respect for gay people. We're being had if we fall for that.

JimNtexas said...

I thought both shows were well done last night.

'Big Love' went a little overboard with the symbolism, but it was fun.

The best part was that the opening shot of 'Big Love' showed us Nikki's boob instead of Bill's butt. That was a nice change.

paul a'barge said...

Well, if we're going with the Big Love nudity, am I the only one here mumbling on and on about wanting the next incident to be ... Margene?

XWL said...

Oh, please, it's Vito. Nothing about him is touching. No one wants to see him having sex with anybody, male or female. So he has sex with a male and we're disgusted and we're supposed to feel ashamed of ourselves for not accepting gay people? It's Vito. Why on earth would him getting in touch with his sexual feelings be touching -- or even interesting? We're being expected to suspend normal judgment to demonstrate respect for gay people. We're being had if we fall for that.

Lookism! That's what you are guilty of Professor.

Ugly people of the world UNITE!

(Vito is ugly in personality, as well, so you could claim that if he had a beautiful soul you could overlook his less than pretty container)

And as far as the nudity in Big Love subthread, if you really want to see Chloƫ Sevigny engage in explicit activity, rent Brown Bunny (and prepare to be bored stiff (and by stiff I mean in a bad way, not in the good way))

Also while we are musing about nudity in HBO dramas, would any laws be violated if the daughter and her friend are shown engaged in sexual activity with some nudity together? Both actresses are over 21 (Amanda Seyfried and Tina Majorino) so they are legal, but their characters aren't. The most recent legislation regarding depiction of sex with or between minors would suggest that adult actors portraying minors engaged in sex would still be illegal. I say, HBO should be truly daring and test this law by having those two fall in love before either character is supposed to be over 18.

Would that scene violate the Hatch-Leahy bill?

bookman said...

On Vito-
"and all the stuff about him showing his sensitive side is just stupid. He's gay, so he's interested in interior decoration?"
-definitely agree

having a gay mafioso is consistent with the broader old culture/new world theme.. its just not pulled off very well

amba said...

Oh, please, it's Vito. Nothing about him is touching. No one wants to see him having sex with anybody, male or female. So he has sex with a male and we're disgusted and we're supposed to feel ashamed of ourselves for not accepting gay people? It's Vito. Why on earth would him getting in touch with his sexual feelings be touching -- or even interesting? We're being expected to suspend normal judgment to demonstrate respect for gay people.

Ann: I don't quite agree. The whole point about this show is that the same people can be repellent, disgusting, yet at times a little bit human and touching. Like Caliban.

amba said...

Besides, how is Christopher LESS disgusting?!

amba said...

He's gay, so he's interested in interior decoration?

No, silly, he's cruising antique shops because he knows that's where the boys are!

amba said...

Another good line of Tony's: "This is 2006. There are pillow-biters in the Special Forces."

Ann Althouse said...

Amba: re my interest in Chris as opposed to Vito. Chris has been one of the most important characters on the show, second only to Tony. We have followed him for years, through many stories. We're interested in what happens to him. We're fascinated by the many awful things about him. We've never cared anything about Vito. He's never been an interesting character, and we have no built-in reason to care about a plot development about him. And the story itself is dumb.

And they did show him interested in interior decoration: when he went to the inn (and was alone in the room) and when he gazed at a vase.

amba said...

It's true that Vito's sudden character development comes awfully late. And that the pitch for letting gay people -- even gay mobsters -- be themselves is uncharacteristically preachy. I'd still bet that there's a real-life story (more than one) something like this, without the NH angle.

amba said...

This is from an interview on MSNBC.com with Joseph R. Gannascoli, who plays Vito. Apparently the plotline was his idea -- and his career move:

Now that the gay story line is heating up, Gannascoli is immensely pleased, in part because it was his idea to make Vito homosexual.

"I saw him as, like, a cross between Mike Tyson and Liberace," the 47-year-old Brooklyn-born actor told The Associated Press in an interview at his home. "I wanted to make him sort of in self-denial, self-loathing, a real gay hater."

Gannascoli's suggestion was inspired by the book "Murder Machine," about the Gambino family, which had an openly gay member also named Vito.

"They didn't bother him about it, because I guess he was good at what he did, which was chopping up bodies," Gannascoli said.

Gannascoli concedes that he had a self-serving motivation for making the suggestion: Breaking out of the pack.

"I thought that was a way of separating myself from the other actors, because I would have been in the background most of the time.

"You know, line here, line there, and nothing really substantial," said Gannascoli, whose character previously was best known for whacking Jackie Aprile Jr. "To really make an impact is all I can ask for."

He also thought it would create an interesting acting challenge. But even in a year that has seen "Brokeback Mountain" become a cultural phenomenon and Philip Seymour Hoffman win an Oscar playing Truman Capote, Gannascoli knows the reaction to Vito won't be all positive.

"I'm a Brooklyn guy. I was just in Brooklyn last night. And, you know, I had some real wise guys that look at me and they give me dirty looks. I've had guys, like, come after me in clubs," he said.

He just hopes the "cerebral people" will appreciate his performance.

Gannascoli said "The Sopranos" has changed his life "in so many ways."

"Recognition, I'd say, the most. It allowed me to get married."

It's also allowed Gannascoli to buy his house ("which coming from a rent-controlled apartment all my life was a huge step up"), get his novel published ("A Meal to Die For," loosely based on his life in the restaurant business) and develop a signature line of food (olive oil, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa and wine).


You more than get the picture.

amba said...

msn.com, rather. But the link is good.

Jenny D. said...

The church, the setting for the festival? I was married in that church.