Saturday, March 18, 2006

Forget About It

A new season of The Sopranos began last week, and to be honest, I don't really know why anyone watches it. I know why I watch it, but I don't know why anyone else does.

I watch it because my sister likes the show and she doesn't get HBO, so I have to tape it for her.

I suppose that by admitting that, I could get sued for copyright infringement, but for all I know, my sister records over the episodes after she's through watching them, so there's no proof of anything and a lawsuit wouldn't stick. On the other hand, if she doesn't reuse the tapes, then anyone who's reading this should understand that what I am writing is fiction and that it has absolutely no basis in fact.

Anyway, back to The Sopranos. I know I could tape it without watching it, but the way I figure it, if I'm doing one, I might as well do the other. So that's why I watch it. It's not a very good reason -- I know that -- but it's the best one I've got. However, I take comfort in the fact that this is supposedly the last season -- or at least that's what I think they said at the end of last season -- although I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to drag it out for another season or two.

If they do, it'll make a lot of people very happy, because a lot of people really love that show. And what's not to love? The main character is a fat, bald, ugly crook with a bad temper. He's obnoxious and overbearing, but he's actually one of the least annoying characters in the show. No wonder it's such a success.

Now, just as an entertaining little digression, let's consider how families have been portrayed on television over the years. Specifically, let's consider how the husband and/or father is portrayed. In shows of the '50s and early '60s, such as Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and My Three Sons, he was loving and wise. In the later '60s, as portrayed in shows like Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Mr. Ed, he was sort of bumbling, but still basically good and well-meaning. In the '70s, I'm not sure what he was like, since I didn't have a TV during most of that time. All I can think of was the bigoted and uneducated Archie Bunker, but he probably wasn't very representative. However, in the '80s, a trend began with shows like Married with Children and The Simpsons, in which the man is dysfunctional, unambitious, and stupid. That trend has contined over the years with shows like Malcolm in the Middle, Family Guy, and undoubtedly many others that I'm not even aware of. And now, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, we have The Sopranos, in which the husband and father is not only abusive and violent -- he also happens to be a career criminal.

Last season, at least they had Steve Buscemi. He played a hot-tempered little mafioso, but he got killed off. I don't remember how, but I was sad to see him go, because he's good in everything he's in. If you don't believe me, just watch Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Living in Oblivion, Ghost World, and Fargo. And after you get through watching them, you should watch The Big Lebowski. Buscemi only has a small role in that one, but it's a good movie and you should see it a few times.

But getting back to the original subject, I'm hard pressed to explain why The Sopranos is such a popular show. People say it's well-written, but even if it is (which is open to question), that doesn't make it entertaining. Most of the time, it barely holds my attention. I think I watch it in the hope that all the characters will eventually get killed. Some of them already have, so it could be just a matter of time. If they kill off one or two people a week, they can get rid of them all by the end of the season. That's my suggestion for how to end the series. But HBO probably has other ideas in mind. So if they're thinking of producing another season after this one, my suggestion would be to "fuggedaboutit." Or as normal people say, "forget about it."

I remember sometime in the mid-80s everybody was raving about the TV show Hill Street Blues. I didn't own a TV when it first went on the air, but after I bought one, I started watching it. That's another show that was supposedly well-written, but when I first started watching it, I didn't know why everybody thought so. Then I started watching other shows, and it made perfect sense. Compared to other shows of the time, it was extremely well-written. (Keep in mind that Miami Vice was popular at the time, and even though it was a halfway-decent show, it was so much in love with itself that it didn't seem to realize how ridiculous it was.)

The thing is, TV shows don't have to be well-written to be interesting or popular. Consider the deliberately moronic Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or the even more moronic 12 Oz. Mouse. For some reason that I can't even begin to explain, I find myself irrestibly drawn to those shows. Well, strictly speaking, that isn't true, since I don't make a habit of watching them, so I am actually able to resist them. But they're oddly compelling in some perverse way and I do enjoy them. Whether intentionally or not, they have a lot in common with the Dada movement of the early 20th century. They're absurd, they're aggressively free of meaning and message, they're antagonistic to existing artistic styles and conventions, and in general, they have a strong "anti-art" sensibility. We might think they're merely idiotic, but they could very well be the future of television.

Or maybe they won't be. But if we're lucky, The Sopranos won't be either.