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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sopranos/Wire blogging 

Recently, a few friends asked me why I thought The Wire was a stronger, better show than The Sopranos. Mind you, these individuals had not seen one episode of The Wire, so they weren't disagreeing with me, just wanted to know my reasons. It's kind of a strange questions, as I find it to be more entertaining that the Sopranos and don't really feel the need to defend myself on that count (full disclosure: I consider myself to be a fairly big Sopranos fan). But, I do think HBO has given the short-shrift to The Wire on the advertising/promotion level (why can HBO let everyone in the free world know that Entourage is returning for Season 3 in June, but many people who are HBO fans don't even know there is a show out there called "The Wire"?), and I want my friends to start watching the show. So, to be more specific, I think the greatest advantage The Wire has over The Sopranos is that the storylines, themes and characters are more relevant. Now, when I told the friends in question this, they looked at me incredulously and asked, "What do you mean 'relevant.'" Well, it was a difficult question to answer--they were not satisfied when I talked about how The Wire deals with legitimate issues of national concern such as urban decay/renewal, the drug war, unions, corruption and urban politics. Such an answer gave my friends the mistaken impression that the show is a "take your medicine" kind of show--like, you should watch it because it's good for you and will let you be a better citizen.

Now, I kind of believe watching The Wire will open your eyes to some serious issues in America today. But, that's not what all I meant by "relevant." It's simply the most compelling show on television, and it's "relevance" is one of those reasons. But, I think Sunday's episode of the Sopranos gives me the opportunity to elaborate. Specifically, I'm thinking of Tony's dilemma concerning the possiblity of (yet another) extramarital affair with Juliana Margulies and his dilemma from the previous episode about whether to kill Frankie Valli. Now, the median viewer, I would suspect, probably viewed these dilemmas equally, or, maybe even more likely, saw having the affair as the more serious moral dilemma. The direction of the show in fact pushed the viewer to think this--David Chase may have had us analyze, with Tony, the business reasons for taking out Frankie Valli, but we don't care one way or the other about the morality--it's the mob, after all. But, with the possible affair, we get Tony talking about it to Melfi, Tony and Carmela having sex and acting generally like a "happy couple," etc. And, really, this makes sense for David Chase to do because, after all, to the median viewer, dealing with something like adultery is a much more "relevant" topic than say, dealing with whether to hire some zips from Italy to kill a guy your New York rival wants taken out.

Roy Edroso at Alicublog has a post that touches some of these same issues. He writes:
From the beginning "The Sopranos" has had two major streams. On the one hand, there is the grotesque crudity – the source of many cheap laughs, which is what I think bothers Wolcott about the Kingsley/Bacall storyline [Roy is talking about a James Wolcott post about how he's off the Sopranos], and which also gains most of the water-cooler talking points and tabloid ooh-aahs. Hacked-off heads, surprise deaths, etc.

In opposition to this baseness, there is something larger and more dramatic -- operatic conflicts, behaviors, and emotions. The crude stuff is also outsized, in a grand guignol sort of way, but the latter is the meat of the dramatic interest, because even in this debased age we are still more interested in characters than in splatters, if only slightly so.
I pretty much agree with this, and while the cruder parts are entertaining, they are often not particulary compelling, and again, this gets back to relevance. Contrast this with The Wire, in which all the main themes are both incredibly entertaining from both a a cat-and-mouse standpoint (which can be loosely analogized to Roy's "cruder" parts of The Sopranos) and a character standpoint (the "operatic conflicts, behaviors, emotions")--there is no dictotomy between these two sections in The Wire. Add that to the fact that, indeed, if you watch The Wire you may actually think of different ways to address our nation's urban problems, and, viola, you have a superior television show.

Also, The Wire has Omar and Bubbles, and if you can find me two better pairings of actor and character (in supporting roles), I'll give you a dollar.

UPDATE: I should have noted that, several months ago, my girlfriend and I were discussing the general awesomeness of The Wire, and she is the one who came up with the idea that one of the reasons we like it so much is because it is, in fact, relevant. "Credit where credit is due" is the Goldberg and Guthrie motto after all!*

*Well, after the real motto, which is: "Guthrie doesn't post here anymore."
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