`Sopranos' could use more mob, less mundane

April 29, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

UNDERSTAND, it hurts to say what I'm about to say.

It hurts more than an alley-beating from Paulie Walnuts or a visit from Johnny Sack's leg-breakers.

It hurts more than picking up the check after Tony Soprano and a dozen of his associates feast on steak, lobster and champagne.

But it has to be said: The Sopranos has lost some of its edge.

In fact, halfway through its fifth season, there are times when the popular HBO series about a Jersey mob family feels - I can't believe I'm about to type this word - ordinary.

Well, as ordinary as a show can be when it's about a conflicted crime boss who hates his dead mother and whose marriage is breaking up and whose sociopathic underlings continue to devour each other in a breathtaking orgy of blood, greed and lust.

By the way, this isn't just the raving of a single disgruntled Sopranos fan who maybe didn't get enough sleep the other night.

No, I've talked to a number of hard-core Sopranos junkies who feel the show has lost some of its pizazz.

As to why exactly this has happened, there are a number of theories out there.

My theory is that the show has gotten away from its raison d'etre: mob mayhem and the inner workings of a crime family.

Instead, it has devolved, in large part, into a weekly exploration of - God help us - relationships.

Over the first seven episodes, the show explored the relationship between Tony and Carmela, his estranged wife.

And the relationship between Carmela and her bratty son, A.J.

And the relationship between Tony and A.J.

And the budding, sexually charged relationship between Tony and Adriana.

And the relationship between Carmela and a school teacher she gets the hots for.

Not to mention the relationship between Christopher and Adriana, who is talking to the feds and probably has about 10 minutes left on this earth before she's whacked.

Or the curious relationship between Tony and his old man's former mistress (played by Polly Bergen, of all people, who sang a creepy, geriatric version of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to Tony in full breathless, Marilyn Monroe mode).

The point is, that's an awful lot of relationship-exploring.

Which would be fine if this was Guiding Light or As the World Turns.

Or even Friends or Will & Grace.

But, c'mon, this is The Sopranos!

We don't need no stinkin' relationships on The Sopranos!

And if we have to sit through another tedious relationship scene, couldn't we at least watch someone get whacked, too?

Sure, Tony Blundetto took out Joe Peeps and that hooker at the end of Sunday's episode, which revolved around that interminable 75th birthday barbecue for Carmela's father, Hugh.

And I loved the closing touch: Joe Peeps' car lurching forward and running over Tony B's foot.

But it was too little, too late, if you ask me.

Isn't that the whole point of a mob series, to illustrate the terrifying violence ruthless people are capable of when they don't get their way?

Or are there really viewers who tune in week after week to see if Carmela can bridge the emotional gap between herself and her kids?

Still, even if it's lost some of its edge, The Sopranos is still a terrific series and better than anything else on TV - even if it does take the longest off-season break in the history of the medium.

My quibble is simple: Let's have more of the mob, and less of the mundane.

Let's have more of Tony mixing it up with rival wise guy Phil Leotardo, and less of Tony mixing it up with Carmela and their kids.

Look, we know life in the Soprano household ain't exactly like life with the Huxtables.

It's more like life with the Simpsons, only with the prospect of finding $150,000 in cash and a snub-nosed revolver that Homer tucked above one of the ceiling tiles.

It's more like life with Al and Peg Bundy and their brats, only with the possibility that Al could get blown sky-high when he goes out to start the car.

And that's what I'm trying to say here.

What I'm trying to say is: We've seen lots of series about dysfunctional nuclear families.

But that's not why we tune into The Sopranos.

We tune in, week after week, to watch a dysfunctional mob family.

We tune in to see who's going to sleep with the fishes, not who's going to bond with the missus.

Besides, mob relationships don't tend to last too long, for some reason.

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