13 November 2009

TV of the Naughts

A.V. club, a subsidiary of The Onion media empire, has released its list of the 10 best shows of the Aughts. I haven't seen some of the shows, but I find little to disagree with except...

#2-The Soprano's.

David Chase is a despicable human being, far worse than any of his Garden State mafiosi. They may be cretins, but they are cretins with a purpose. Chase, similar in that he enjoys an easy payday, seemingly lost his.

I was a fan of the show. Back in the days before DVR (shudder) I always had the VCR set to record it. I never missed it and always enjoyed the dialogue, acting, writing...everything. The Pine Barrens episode shows what the show was capable of when firing on all cylinders. It was an extremely well done show. I remember hearing that Mr. Chase had always planned on the series running four seasons. Seeing the popularity of the show HBO backed up the Brinks truck and persuaded Mr. Chase to extend the series. This is where my beef begins.

First of all, it took entirely too long for the fifth season to get completed and put on the air (season 4's finale aired 08 December 2002; season 5's premiere aired 07 March 2004, see here). If, like me, you assumed the length of hiatus was dedicated to creative genius, you'd be wrong. Early in the fifth season, Tony & Carmella are separated, but there's a bear lurking about the neighborhood. So Tony, atta guy that he is, has his goons hang out in his house to make sure Carm and the kids are OK. As one of the goons goes to a closet/safe of some sort to get an entirely inappropriate weapon with which to defend the house, the camera, while perusing the arsenal, pauses ever so slightly on a hand grenade. I remember thinking, "boy howdy, I can't wait to see what becomes of that!"
The season then gets into what happens when a bunch of mobsters, the first batch to be tried and convicted by RICO statutes, gets released. Steve Buscemi, an actor of considerable abilities otherwise, plays an old friend who gets released and wants to live on the straight and narrow. He ends up pissing Tony off and gets killed. It took 15 months of hiatus to come up with and shoot this? Sure, other things happened, some of which was pretty interesting, but this was the arc of the season. And it sucked.

We all knew season six was the swan song. And since we just wasted 13 hours spread over three months, and our expectations were so high based on what had happened before, we all thought we were in for one beg treat.

And big it should have been. Not happy with what he churned out in the 15 months between season four and five, Mr. Chase took 20 months and one week between the finale of season five and the premiere (of the first part) of season six. After twelve episodes, we take a 10 month break for the final nine episodes.

I'm not going to go through what happened in the last season. For several reasons, chief among them is I don't remember what it was about, because it, too, sucked.

But then the show ended. After some very good tension build-up, with Tony and his (real, nuclear) family, seemingly happy and sitting in a diner, the screen suddenly cuts to black for ten seconds and then the credits role silently. Yeah, many critics thought it was "brilliant" and "true to the show" to end it thusly.

Pig shit.

The writer owes his audience some things. And story's have endings. That's the way it works. Imagine if Hamlet ended with our hero and Laertes lunging at each other (with the audience not knowing which sword's tip is poisoned) and Gertrude with a cup (the audience not knowing if it is the cup) poised at her lips. The Bard would have been found bobbing in the Thames. And rightly so. The auteur leaves things for the audience to figure out, and as an auteur-poseur Chase comes up small. I didn't wait over eight years and watch 86 episodes to figure this shit out for myself. I have to figure shit out for myself every day. I work. I challenge myself all the time. I strive to be a better person. But, dammit, when I watch TV, especially on a Sunday night, I want this stuff fed to me. And I, and the rest of the audience that helped make Mr. Chase an obscenely wealthy man due to his story-telling, was owed that much.

Remeber that hand grenade? There's a literary technique known as Chekov's Gun. Basically it is forshadowing. If a gun is introduced in a scene and isn't used, you can bet the gun will show up later and be a part of the story. Or, as Wikipedia has it: "The name Chekhov's gun comes from Anton Chekhov himself, who stated that any object introduced in a story must be used later on, else it ought not to feature in the first place. (Italics added). In other words, don't waste your audience's time. Nothing ever happened with the hand grenade. And when the season ended without it going boom (and the storyline sucking) I knew then that we were lost.

The storyteller has an obligation to his audience. If you're not a good storyteller, that's one thing. But Chase was a good storyteller. I think he wanted to end the show after four seasons and took almost five years (from the end of season four to the end of season six) and just spread some already thin gruel as far out as he could. And then when he got to the last page...he quit.

I enjoyed the first four seasons of the Sopranos and if the show ended there I would have no quarrel with it being placed on any "best of" lists. How it ended and what Chase did to his audience over that span destroys whatever credibility Mr. Chase had and ruined the show for me forever. I will never watch anything he has had or will have anything to do with again. If he will not respect his audience, why should we stick around?

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