Last Sunday’s episode of The Sopranos was the worst in recent memory because it was uncharacteristically static and boring.
There is nothing worse to watch in any sort of drama than a person talking on and on — especially talking to someone who does not respond — because that kind of monologue drains all the energy and tension from the show.
The episode began with Tony “stuck in his mind in California” — I get
all the psychological allegories at play in the series and they’re
trite in an Introduction to Psychology sort of way — and Tony spent
most of that time on the cell phone with his wife back home in New
Jersey. I teach my young Playwrights, directors and actors that drama is one thing and one thing only: CONFLICT.
How can you create Conflict — its most simple core consists of at
least two people in the same room disagreeing with each other — by
watching one person speak into a cell phone? It’s boring. There is no
tension. We are watching only one side of the conversation and young
writers love to have their characters talk to each other over the phone
instead of in person because their writing reflects their lives: The
young experience the world through their ears via cellular phones.
Effective Conflict leads to Irrevocable Change.
That is a kind of
change that can never be undone and it is the secret center of all good
drama. The easiest way to create Irrevocable Change is through death.
There are other forms of Irrevocable Change that are more subtle than a
shooting but they take care and an effervescence of spirit to pull off
via the collaborative efforts of the writer, director, actors and
Audience and there was none in last week’s episode.
When Tony Soprano sleeps — with da fishes or in a coma — the rest of
us snooze with him because he is the emotional and dramatic core of
that series. We want Tony active, awake and alive. The entire cast
finds its strength and humor and Conflict by radiating away from his
When Tony Soprano talks on the phone or is flat on his back in a coma
while those around him “talk” at him without him being able to respond,
the drama is stagnant and dying a worse and more painful death than the
sepsis silently — and without active Conflict — infecting Tony’s
Each character was trotted in to Tony’s hospital room — not to
interact with Tony — but to speechify and reveal thoughts and feelings
in a boring one-way conversation. I’m surprised series creator and
Executive Producer David Chase didn’t just have the nurse hold a cell
phone to Tony’s ear so his family could “phone in” their conversation
because it would have had the same dramatic effect on the audience as
having the monologue in person.
There’s big talk — mainly from The Sopranos actors in post-episode interviews to “give Edie Falco the Emmy now for her crying performance in the hospital hallway.”
To that I say, “Bah!”
The isolated lonesome tearing up and sobbing Ms. Falco “performed” last week is what every junior actor craves to demonstrate in a first
year drama class because it is easy and because it looks good to those
who don’t know any better.
I would have preferred a less
scene-chewing performance from Ms. Falco. A single tear dripping from a
stoic eye is a tougher performance to pull off than an all-out sob
scene. I was offended by Ms. Falco’s performance because she is a much
She cheated and took the Drama 101 way out on her way
to what her castmates hope is a another tainted Emmy win. Drama is
always better when there is Conflict and Irrevocable Change. A movement
of Spirit is an acceptable form of Irrevocable Change but it takes more
time and effort to pull of than a ganglion of phone calls and a flurry
of soggy tears.
Let’s hope next week’s episode goes back to guns,
goombahs and gnocchi.