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
angry core.

 The Sopranos

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
body.

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 Sopranos

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
better actress.

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.

25 Comments

  1. I didn’t see the Sopranos episode because I don’t have HBO, but heard a conversation about it that mirrored your commentary.
    Conflict is the spice of life in the entertainment world.
    The other criticism I heard was that it reminded people of seeing their relatives in the hospital during their final days. The people talking about the episode said it was depressing for that reason.

  2. Hi Chris!
    I don’t mind depressing — mafia guys shooting each other to get ahead is depressing — I hate boring and that episode was boring no matter how the creative teams tries to spin its aesthetic value.
    It’s a good show and there will be clunkers along the way — I just don’t think that kind of boring effort should be defended by the creative staff. Just shrug your shoulders and move on.
    You can be the best show on television without having the best show on television each week.

  3. Hi Simms!
    Yes, I’m not sure why they chose to spend so much effort on active dreaming on the show. We’ve seen it before. We’ve hated it before. We’re still tired of it now!
    It seems there are two Sopranos fan camps: One that likes shooting and the other that likes the allusions.
    I can get into both if they’re both well done but when one side overtakes the other — as allusion did on Sunday — you quickly get mired down in art and not drama.

  4. Ugh! THE CHILDREN! They are two of the worst in the business and I don’t mean the family business!
    😀
    Their untrained style weighs down the excellent work around them and their lack of talent guarantees there will never be a future Sopranos series starring either of them.
    Their innocent charm worked when they were children on the show but now that they’re older and have to compete with real, trained, actors – well, we suffer their embarrassment for them.

  5. Hi David!
    I am finally here again. Remembering to login was my problem but I’m here: “You keep pulling me back in!” Ha. Ha.
    I do like the Sopranos but I miss Tony Soprano when he has a small role or is playing someone else like last week. We get the point. Get him out of the hospital and get the drama happening.

  6. Ms. Anne!
    I am glad you were able to get back in here! If you ever have trouble, let me know sooner. I can reset your password from here or help you out in any other way.
    I agree it was fun to see Gandolfini using his “real” voice last week but he didn’t go far enough. He should have changed his gait as well to really go full-freaky-bore into his new body reincarnate.

  7. Isn’t changing a walk the first thing John Travolta does when he takes on a new character? He tries to figure out how that person would walk because we all have a different way of moving down the street? It’s an interesting concept..

  8. Yes, I think that’s right about Travolta, Anne. When he was doing his best character actor work he would change everything about him from the inside out in order to portray a whole new spirit of life and perspective. He’s a great actor who unfortunately changed from caring more about religion than his craft and that is always a sorry loss human for us all.

  9. The documentary I watched starred a reporter from Oregon who tracked the main Meth labs to California farms. I’m sure the large, open stretches of Midwestern farmland are just perfect for Meth labs as well.
    Television is great invention. There’s so much out there to learn and know once you get past the “lower” lowbrow channels and up into the cream of the good stuff as you so rightly mention.
    😀

  10. If you’re looking for good real drama and plenty of conflict there’s nothing I recommend above English soap operas.
    First – Coronation Street – because it combines humor (or is that humour) and drama
    Second – Eastenders – tons of drama and conflict, with a good laugh here and again.
    I have some Coronation Street and Eastendrs in avi format if you’re interested in giving it a try – I have your Tim’s Cascade ready to send soon.

  11. Gordon!
    Yes! I live for Conflict!
    :mrgreen:
    Those shows sound great! How did you get them in .AVI format?
    Can’t wait for the Tim’s taste treat, Gordon! If you need me to PayPal you some money for them or for shipping — holla!

  12. Can’t really comment when we had HBO I never watched the Soprano’s. Carolyn lived a few doors away from the Bonanno family and was childhood friends with some of them when she was younger, her Dad was a minor guy who hung around the edges of mob type people and she doesn’t care for mob shows.
    If I want to watch the Godfather or Goodfella movies I do so when she is out.
    I was more of a Deadwood fan when we had HBO ( my Dad looks just like Ian McShane who starre din the series).
    Mik

  13. Thanks, Mik!
    Yeah, Milch is a genius type guy — difficult, a little cruel, smart and barely tolerated by those around him.
    😀
    I thought I would love “The Unit” but I found the first couple of episodes a little disappointing. I’ll hope for greater things down the road. Haven’t yet seen “Bones.”

  14. The best part of the bbc’s eastenders site is that you can get a ‘highlights’ clip from every episode. Have a look at the March 10th episode (summary and video clips) and let me know if it’s something you’d be interested in.

  15. It may be in its original broadcast but unfortunately not in the captured videos that I have. 🙁 I’m not sure if they have closed captioning in england honestly… hmm…
    Oh, the other great thing about that web site is that you can look at a character tree and see who is who