Sunday, April 30, 2006

Burning, flaming love

"The Sopranos," episode eight. From today's review:
Okay, let's all get it out of our systems now, so we can move on:

"What is this, Brokeback Gangsters?"

You probably said or thought some variation on that joke as you saw Vito and Jim the cook/biker/fireman having their idyllic roll in the tall grass. (Either that, or, like me, you saw it as a gay package tour ad.)

The Vito storyline has been a rewarding digression, but the latest chapter started to push the outer edge of the "Sopranos" envelope -- not because of the smooching, but because of the scenes leading up to it.

Dartford already seemed too good to be true -- if Costa Mesa was Purgatory, this is Gay Heaven -- and now it seems even better than that. First there was Jim's fetishized entrance on motorcycle at the house fire and the glamour shot of him with the rescued child. Then there was dialogue so corny you could butter it: "I'm glad you decided to write your book in our little town" and "Sometimes, you tell a lie so long, you don't know when to stop. You don't know when it's safe."

Now, nothing on this show is random. Right before Vito went out for the leather bar adventure that led to his exile, we saw his wife watching Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodrama "Imitation of Life." The movie's story about a black girl passing for white -- plus the Technicolor images and purple dialogue -- made it a gay cinema staple.

Either last night's Dartford scenes were a deliberate homage to Sirk or writers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider went overboard trying to illustrate how different Vito's new world is from the one he abandoned. There were times where it didn't just feel like a different world, but a different show.

But those occasional missteps didn't take much away from another fascinating episode, one that continued to push this season's themes of identity and change.
To read the rest, including talk of AJ's panic attacks, Tony's craving for smoked turkey and the Don Fanucci homage, click here, then come back to comment.


Louis said...

Vito's line about lying really "clanged." This season is all about whether people can change, I get it, but that character would never make that comment.

On the flip side, the scene with Tony and A.J. outside the police station was very powerful. James Gandolfini was great.

Anonymous said...

did you notice how AJ's hair was short, then got long on the Stugots II, then back to short again?

Alan Sepinwall said...

There was some fluctuation between the hair, yes, though ever since I saw "Wind" (where Jennifer Grey's nose goes from big to small to big to small at random), I've learned to let that stuff go.

And Louis, I really did love the Tony/AJ scene. As always with these reviews, there's never enough time and space to write about everything.

Adam said...

At least now, a month after Kevin Finnerty left, we really know what this season's about: given our ties to and expectations of each other, what kind of personal growth and change is possible?

You know who's succeeded, oddly? Janice. Decided she wanted to go from hippie malcontent to Mafia mom, and by gum, she did it.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on "The West Wing?"

Anonymous said...

Here's my theory on AJ's first panic attack: IIRC, AJ didn't want to play football, but was being pushed into it by Tony. When his coach praises him, that only further cements the idea that he will be trapped doing something he doesn't want to do; hence, the panic attack. It fits because he's seeing a future that he doesn't want and that scares him.

The Tony/AJ scene was amazing.

I completely missed that Juliana was a recovering alcoholic. Was it the ordering of the ginger ale at the Bing that tipped you off? If not, what? I want to watch for it on my next viewing. Thanks!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dez, it was the way Julianna paused before ordering the ginger ale, and, after Tony tried to get into her pants in that scene, she paused again and said, "For once in my life, I will exercise a little self-control." Then, after the seduction at her apartment failed, she started drinking champagne. Addict behavior all around.

Louis said...

I missed that too, Dez.

Alan, off topic, I know, but I'm curious -- did you watch Thief after its first episode? I've really enjoyed it, and I hope it gets renewed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Louis, I watched the first three "Thief"s on a DVD screener that FX sent out. Then, because I was several weeks ahead, I forgot to start TiVo'ing it when the fourth episode rolled around and just missed the rest. Conveniently, I just got a DVD of 4-6 in the mail today. So I'll get to it when I have time.

But as you can read here, the ratings were in the tank from the start, so it's probably not coming back.

Louis said...

Interesting that some viewers found elements of Thief confusing. It's really a pretty straightforward show, in terms of storytelling. Are we so accustomed to having every motivation explained ad nauseam and every potential loose end tied up in a neat little bow that we can't appreciate a little ambiguity?

The article asks the question, "Were viewers turned off by Nick's ambivalent morality?" That ambivalence was the best part of the show. As Andre Braugher says, "'Complicated' is good, in my opinion."

Anyway, it's too bad. Braugher is a great actor; I still watch old episodes of Homicide with pleasure and a little bit of awe. I hope he finds something worthwhile.

Todd said...

I was doing something else while watching an episode of Thief, which was a bad idea.

But I quickly refound my footing after about half of the next episode. It's not THAT complicated, though I think the show has a few too many characters (the relationships get sort of muddled, and I STILL have trouble keeping what each thief does straight, even with the great actors playing them). Still, the Braugher/Whitman scenes are incredible.

Anyway. . .I thought the "lying" line worked in that it sounded like a Hallmark card. The Sopranos has never been afraid to let its characters speak in cliche at appropriate times, and this struck me as the sort of time when Vito would turn to a pre-packaged homily.

Anonymous said...

Loved "Johnnycakes".

When has the show ever been this focused? We have three discrete threads:

Tony. Yes Alan, you were mistaken when you said that Tony couldn't change (yet it seems that is a failing you TV types sometimes have, of trying to assess the Grand Themes based only on the latest episode). This season, it is now clear, is all about the struggle over whether Tony can now truly change, and what else would the final season of the Sopranos be about, may I ask? At first I thought the Julianna plot might be a retread of Gloria Trillo -- Tony attracted to a confident, independent woman who may be just a little unhinged -- but this episode plainly showed that after all he's been through, Tony may not have the walls of self-denial he used to skate through previous escapades like the affair with Gloria.

A.J. Again the show brilliantly updated last season's indications that A.J. may have a future in "event planning" (love the running gag of A.J. pretending he doesn't even remember that episode), and the scenes of him mingling with club buddies and dealing with the fallout from his own not-necessarily-asked-for reputation. These scenes nimbly deal with (1) A.J.'s career motivations; (2) his feelings about being heir to the Soprano dynasty; (3) his more hidden (though no longer) feelings about being heir to a tradition of bloodletting and vendetta; (4) his increasing drug use and social mobilization; (5) his hereditary panic attacks; and probably six or seven other things that don't happen to be at the top of my head.

Vito. Finally we have Vito. Yes, let the Brokeback Goodfellas jokes commence. Yet even though Vito's story seems to be taking place on a "different show", I'm loving it. The Sopranos so frequently takes time out to show what happens when the normal stumblebums accidentally incur onto Soprano territory -- it's about ti me we got an extended treatment of the reverse. "Vince's" romance with short-order-cook-cum-volunteer-firefighter Jim Witowski is gold, cliche'd though it may be. Vito has been a major surprise this season and so has actor Joe Gannascoli; maybe I'm a sucker but all I can do is blink at how this former doughboy-capo seems to be emerging from some kind of shell, living the B&B life with Johnnycakes and writing his imaginary novel about Rocky Marciano (or was it Graciano?).

But my favorite scene involved none of the three. It involved Patsy (or whoever that was -- I thought Patsy was dead? Or maybe there're brothers? You'll have to help out here Alan) -- anyhow, my favorite scene involved the two reps from the North Ward Merchants Protective Co-Op being stymied by the new world represented by corporate Starbucks and their ilk. "It's over for the little guy." If there is a Grand Thematic message from the Sopranos, it may be that.