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Tube Talk: These Sopranos Don’t Sing

TUBE TALK with John T. Forde

These Sopranos Don’t Sing

Just when you thought it was safe to watch the bland fare of sitcom reruns and home improvement shows that constitute summertime TV, along comes a week of horror guaranteed to have you screaming back into therapy.

Here’s my checklist. Sunday – rubber-faced Michael Jackson, scarily combining the trauma of an abused child with the absolute power of a feudal lord, explaining how, like a prehistoric fungus, he’s managed to reproduce without the need for women. Wednesday – a scaremongering pseudo-documentary about terrorists releasing the smallpox virus into America. Thursday – another muckraking doco about the hunt for child beauty queen Jon-Benet Ramsey’s killers. It was hard to know what was more traumatising – endless repetition of Jon-Benet’s autopsy pics, or endless repetition of video footage of Jon-Benet trussed up like a Texas hooker in child talent competitions.

With docos going for the jugular and the lowest common denominator, it was a relief to escape to the new season of The Sopranos (Thursdays, TV2, 9.30pm). Sure, the violence and the hairstyles might be ugly, but at least, thank God, it’s all fiction.

Perhaps the definitive show of our times, The Sopranos fuses post- Godfather media cool with the domestic banalities of The Waltons. Well, Tony Soprano says “Fuck you, douche bag!” a lot more than Grandpa Walton ever did.

Somehow, The Sopranos lets us buy into comforting fantasies of Italians as hairy-but-loveable family folk with colourful larger-than-life eccentricities, while also fuelling our love-it-but-loathe-it relationship to violence. We’re turned on by Tony’s alpha-male confidence and aggression as much as we’re repulsed by his violence and racism. James Gandolfini’s complex, brilliant performance keeps us constantly on edge about Tony’s motivations. Like Michael Jackson, he’s an unhappy child, a loving family man and a crazed dictator all at once.

The new series opens on a downer, with Tony staggering down to the mailbox in his dressing gown, paunch showing, and with a face like a depressed Doberman.

Things don’t get much better. First, it was just Tony in therapy with the frazzled Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Now, the whole dynasty seems to be suffering from some kind of post-September 11 nihilism – and some spectacularly bad haircuts.

While Tony frets that his mafia wheeling and dealing isn’t bringing in enough revenue, and has conversations with a crony about Nostradamus’s predictions of the end of the world. Meanwhile, Uncle Junior has cancer and is facing trial by the feds, Uncle Paulie is in prison (and wearing a really bad orange jumpsuit), and nephew Christopher is worried that Tony has put him on the “endangered species list” and is cooling off by shooting up heroin. The Waltons, this definitely ‘aint.

Meanwhile, Tony’s wife Carmella (played by the fabulous Edie Falco) freaks out when she sees a mafia widow fallen on hard times handing out sausage samples in the local supermarket, and demands that Tony provide for her and their children. “Everything comes to an end!” she shrieks at Tony, waving an elaborately manicured finger laden with diamonds.

Personally, I’m with Carmella. If the end of the world is nigh, I’d rather see it out wearing a velour pantsuit, expensive jewellery and big hair.

tubetalk@nzoomail.com

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