So this might be worth mentioning.
Finished watching The Sopranos this afternoon on DVD. I never watched it while it was running: a combination of revulsion against the hype (was it the New York Times that called it the greatest work of popular culture ever? please) and being too cheap ever to have HBO. But once it was all out on DVD I finally gave it a shot. That was about a year and a half ago, and I finally finished this afternoon.
Obviously, I don't think it was the greatest work of popular culture evah. How could you even make a case for that kind of claim? I was pretty damn impressed, though, particularly with the first season. But for me it went pretty much consistently downhill from there. Mrs. Sgt. T lost interest somewhere in Season 3; sometime in Season 4 I conceded she was probably right.
I won't bother to say what I liked about it: when I thought it was good, it was for the same reasons everybody else did. Writing, characters, texture, sense of place, detail, subtext, etc., all more complex than anything TV had seen before (although not since: I'm one season into The Wire and one season into Mad Men, too).
Where it fell down for me is a more interesting question (to me, at least). I get, I think, the show's central critique of contemporary America: that our screwed-up past and our present self-indulgence are destroying us, but we're too screwed up, self-indulgent, and self-deluded to do anything about it. It's a cogent critique, and I largely agree with it.
But it poses a problem for a show that runs for six seasons. The whole point of Tony Soprano is that he'll never change. And this makes for kind of a static show. That wasn't a problem in the first season, because we're not sure he can't change. I mean, he's in therapy, right? And he actually seems to be making progress for a while. But somewhere in the middle seasons I got the point, that he'll never change, and after that...nothing really mattered.
I think if I'd been able to follow the intricacies of the mob stories, the stagnant subtext wouldn't have bothered me. But surprisingly (because I thought I loved mob movies), I got bored with the plot fairly quickly. Just too damn many characters to keep straight, especially since the show very pointedly didn't give most of them proper establishing scenes - artistically a nice move, of course, but inconvenient for the viewer, to say the least. Plus, I didn't really like any of the characters - again, not a strict necessity, but it would've helped, over the long run.
So that's that.
Can't rag on it too much, though. It got Dylan to record "Return To Me." Here's a live version.