Checking in with ‘The Sopranos’ at 20: Yep! Still the greatest television show of all time.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the debut of The Sopranos, which I continue to contend was the greatest TV show of all time. (I insisted on putting it in my 50 Greatest Shows of the Century list even though it debuted in the last century because that’s how strongly I feel about this.) The series fundamentally changed television and how we imagined what television can be: it was cinematic, literary, epic even. While there had been great television shows before The Sopranos, the series was arguably the show that ushered in the Golden Age of Television that we find ourselves currently drowning in, and Tony Soprano one of our first truly great antiheroes. Without Tony, there is no Walter White, no Omar Little, no Don Draper.

Creator David Chase has been going around giving interviews about the legacy of the series, and his upcoming prequel movie, the most revealing being this interview with the New York Times. In it, he talks about TV conventions he wanted to break:

Really all of them. I hated commercials and the way they interrupted everything. I wanted to slow the pace of the episode down or speed it up, as we wanted to. Language. I wanted to create characters that felt like real people and behave the way people behave, which I didn’t see on network television.

This is notable for a couple of reasons: 1. this sounds an awful lot like what TV creators are saying about moving from broadcast TV to streaming services like Netflix but 2. it’s arguable that Chase literally broke these conventions altogether. Sure, there will always be commercials on broadcast TV, but now creators have an almost infinite number of places they can tell their stories that are not constrained by commercial breaks.

And as far as the language and creation of characters go, because The Sopranos was one of HBO’s biggest hits, it changed the way that both premium and basic cable channels approached programming, becoming much more bold with language, sexuality, and violence. This left the networks complaining that they couldn’t compete with the looser standards applied to cable. Gradually over time, those standards did become a little less strict, and in 2012 a Supreme Court ruling determined that the FCC’s policies towards profanity were arbitrary and left it up to the broadcasters to self-regulate. I’m not arguing that being able to say “shit” on broadcast TV is important or even a good, but it did open up creative space for creators to tell their stories the way they want to.

The takeaway from the interview that everyone is talking about, though, is the ending of the series finale, that famous cut to black and whether or not Tony Soprano dies. LOOK. I’VE SAID IT BEFORE, I’LL SAY IT AGAIN: IT WAS NEVER ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT TONY DIED. I mean, it was about Tony Soprano’s death, but not in the concrete way that people seem to want it to be. Instead, it was about the constant state of anxiety that Tony lives in, worrying that this person walking through the door, or that person sitting at the counter might be the one to kill him or someone he loves, and the lack of control that comes with the life he’s chosen for himself.

Here’s what Chase had to say about it:

I think the point isn’t whether or not Tony was killed. It’s the uncertainty that’s the point, and the way the scene’s crazy tension makes us aware of the passage of time and how choices shape the brief bit of life we get. Most people can’t control when or how they die, but the choices are ours. Is that totally off base?

No, that’s not off base at all.

I think there’s some hope in it.

You’re the first person who’s said that. There is some hope in it. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is the name of the song, for Christ’s sake. I mean, what else can you say?

Is there a correct answer to the question of whether Tony is alive or dead?

I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

There you have it, folks.

But my favorite bit from the interview is this:

Since “The Sopranos,” TV has become perhaps the most creatively fertile and ambitious pop-culture medium. Do you take any satisfaction from the fact that you were one of the architects of that?

If you say so. But yeah, I take satisfaction that I had some effect on the way things changed. I did want to change things. There is an Elvis Costello song where he says, “I want to bite the hand that feeds me; I want to bite that hand so badly.” That’s the way I always felt about working at the networks, and I think I bit it.

Yes, you did, Mr. Chase.

Chase, as I noted above, is working on a prequel movie that will feature a very young Tony Soprano, but focusing largely on Tony’s father, Johnny, and Christopher’s father, Dickie Moltisanti in the 1960s. I’m going to be honest: I’m not holding my breath for this one. I am sort of worried that The Sopranos was A Moment, and that any attempt to revisit it is going to inevitably be a disappointment. But we’ll have to wait and see.

In other Sopranos news:

Here’s a video of Edie Falco and David Chase talking about the series.

The cast got together to talk about the show and their first impressions of the series:  “Michael Imperioli — who said he’d had ‘better colonoscopies than auditions, and I haven’t had good colonoscopies’ — noted that, after believing he blew his chance at the show, he convinced himself Chase didn’t understand the material. ‘Who cares anyway?’ he recalled thinking. ‘This guy’s not even Italian; what does he know?’ (Chase is, in fact, Italian.)”

This is a love letter (?) to the episode “Long Term Parking” which made killing off a major character a thing shows could do.

HBO has been running The Sopranos marathons all week. I rewatched a bunch of episodes this weekend and I’m here to tell you: it holds up. Still the greatest. Beginning at 11 a.m. today, HBO2 will be airing the final season, so you can watch that finale one more time if it doesn’t make you black out with rage. And The New York Times posted this guide to watching The Sopranos if you only have time for 1, 5, 10 or 20 episodes. Of course, if you have time for 20 episodes, I’m going to suggest that you do yourself a favor and binge the entire series on HBO Go.

In non-Sopranos-related news:

The executive producer of Killing Eve reveals that the second season will be about “compulsiveness, addiction, obsession” and influenced by Paradise Lost. OK! I AM IN!

The creator of The Punisher finds it NOT COOL when policemen and soldiers use the Punisher skull iconography. Y’all got the wrong end of the stick on this one, guys.

Apparently, Jeff Bezos’ divorce is happening because he was carrying on an affair with “former So You Think You Can Dance host” Lauren Sanchez. As someone who has watched every episode of So You Think You Can Dance, I can say I’ve never heard of this person. Here’s her IMDB page. SYTYCD is not mentioned once, which makes me think she must have been recast with Cat Deely or something.

LOL, a Lifetime movie called some random family ugly and now the family is suing.

No one is hosting the Oscars and you know what? THAT’S FINE. IT WILL BE JUST FINE.

Let’s check in on President Senile Grandpa for a sec:

Great job choosing to air that Oval Office address, guys! Good thing he didn’t attack you for refusing to air his propaganda.

#MeToo

Lady Gaga is really sorry for working with R. Kelly, you guys. She is removing the song she collaborated with him on, “Do What You Want With My Body” — NO, REALLY, THAT’S THE SONG SHE RECORDED WITH R. MOTHERFUCKING KELLY, A SONG ABOUT LITERAL RAPE WITH A LITERAL RAPIST — from iTunes and other streaming services, and made a public apology on Twitter.

And good for her, but as Pajiba lays out, Gaga spent a lot of time defending Kelly when many of the details of his behavior were well known, so to act as though this apology is coming now because of “new” information is some bullshit. I’m just sitting here trying to not be cynical about the fact that this apology is coming out just as she is the star of a movie that has Oscar ambitions. (I’m failing.)

If you believe I’m being too cynical by thinking that Gaga’s apology is about the Oscar nominations, let’s take a look at what is going on with the Golden Globe-winning film Green Book: one of the writers just deleted his Twitter account after someone dug up a tweet of his agreeing with Trump that New Jersey Muslims were celebrating 9/11, and Peter Farrelly, director and one of the Farrelly Brothers, admitted that maybe repeatedly flashing his penis on set was not a great idea: “True. I was an idiot,” he said in a statement. “I did this decades ago and I thought I was being funny and the truth is I’m embarrassed and it makes me cringe now. I’m deeply sorry.” Hilarious joke, bro.

Speaking of, Kevin Hart is still on his Pay Attention to Me tour, visiting Andy Cohen’s radio show yesterday where he claims he’s had 10 years of change that no one seems to be paying attention to. Great, now go away for a little while, Kevin.

Quick check-in on Louis C.K.: A Denver comedy club has refused to allow him to perform there after concluding that he has not “done the work.” Unsurprisingly, the owner is a woman.

“I believe in second chances,” she said.  “We have the power to change but no one can do it for him.”

“He can’t phone it in,” she added. “He has to look at himself and do some hard introspective work.”

AMEN, LADY.

Pamela Adlon, the star and creator of Better Things and longtime collaborator with Louis C.K., speaks to Vanity Fair about the whole mess. “All of a sudden, he’s gone, my show is dangling from a precipice,” she says. “It was so huge. And it was so devastating.”

Oh, hey, John Lasseter has landed another job, this time at Skydance Animation, and people are not happy about it.

A court dismissed one of Ashley Judd’s claims against Harvey Weinstein, specifically the one where she alleged sexual harassment after he blackballed her. And two cases of sexual assault have been dropped against Mario Batali.

A documentary about the allegations of Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse is headed to Sundance. The film will focus on two men with whom he had a long relationship when they were children. They are not the same men who accused him of sexually abusing them in a criminal trial back in the 90s. Leaving Neverland will air on HBO after its debut at Sundance.

In Development

  • Evil, a supernatural drama from the creators of The Good Fight, has been given a pilot order at CBS.
  • Arthur’s Law, a German comedy, is being developed for the U.S. at TBS.

Casting News

Mark Your Calendars

  • The Punisher will return on Netflix on January 18.
  • One Day at a Time will return on Netflix on February 8.
  • What We Do in the Shadows will premiere on FX sometime in March.

R.I.P.

Carlos Sánchez, The actor better known as Juan Valdez, pitchman for Colombian coffee

Gregg Rudloff, Oscar-winning sound mixer

Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, Woman known as the “godmother of Title IX.” She has nothing to do with television, but Ms. Sandler is a hero who led a remarkable life.

WATCH THIS

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The little cop show that could settles into its new network. Season premiere. 8 p.m., NBC

FAM: Nina Dobrev stars in this new family sitcom about a woman who has to take in her out-of-control half-sister. Series premiere. 8:30 p.m., CBS

The Good Place: “Michael’s resolve is put to the test.” I don’t know what that means, I’m just delighted this wonderful little show is back. Mid-season premiere. 8:30 p.m., NBC

Roswell: Mysteries Uncovered: They’ve rebooted Roswell, so they had to make this special to remind you what the hell Roswell was. Aside from the show where Claire from Lost got her start. 8 p.m., The CW

Mom: Mid-season premiere. 8 p.m., CBS

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Mid-season premiere. 9 p.m., NBC

Late Night:

  • Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: Bryan Cranston, Lana Condor, Love Jones
  • Late Night with Seth Meyers: John Goodman, Julia Garner, Geoffrey Zakarian, Charlie Hall
  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Sen. Kamala Harris, Bradley Whitford, Gary Clark Jr.
  • The Late Late Show with James Corden: Cedric the Entertainer, Ashley Graham, Flatbush Zombies
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live: Claire Foy, Disturbed
  • The Daily Show: John David Washington
  • Busy Tonight: Patti LaBelle
  • Watch What Happens Live: Josh Hutcherson

 

THUR 7:00 7:30 8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30
ABC Modern Family
(repeat)
The Goldbergs
(repeat)
Truth and Lies: Monica
(new)
CBS The Big Bang Theory
(new)
Young Sheldon
(new)
Mom
(new)
FAM
(new)
S.W.A.T.
(new)
CW Supernatural
(repeat)
Roswell: Mysteries Decoded
(new)
News/Local
FOX Gotham
(new)
The Orville
(new)
News/Local
NBC The Titan Games
(new)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
(new)
The Good Place
(new)
Law & Order: SVU
(new)
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