Wood Working: Nuttin’ replaces dem ‘Sopranos’As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, my favorite TV series is “The Sopranos,” which aired for many years on HBO.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, my favorite TV series is “The Sopranos,” which aired for many years on HBO.
Recently an English teacher friend asked me, “How can you watch that trash? It’s just filthy language and one murder after another.”
I asked her if she had ever seen an episode.
“Well, no, but my husband has, and from what I’ve heard from the next room, I find it despicable.”
That’s sort of like saying, “I don’t read Shakespeare or attend plays he wrote because they’re all full of dirty jokes.”
Lots of people give me dirty looks when I mention “The Sopranos.”
Too bad for them for not having given it a chance. Most critics call it one of the best TV series ever. Individual episodes like “The Pine Barrens” have been described as high art.
So it was a sad day when Tony Soprano and his New Jersey minions called it quits. Today I watch the reruns over and over on the Arts and Entertainment channel on weekdays and Sundays.
It’s a bit embarrassing because I even know stretches of dialogue, so excellently written they’re unforgettable.
I know when the jokes are coming and sit on chair’s edge with anticipation, as when teenager Meadow Soprano asks her mother why her father is angry with Grandma Soprano.
“Because your grandmother wanted your father killed.”
“That b-tch!” says the teenager.
Her father slaps her face and says, “Show some respect for your elders.”
So it was with eager anticipation that I awaited the premiere of a new series, “Boardwalk Empire.” It was billed as HBO’s effort to replace “The Sopranos.”
HBO, I read, spent $18 million on the first episode alone. It hired Martin Scorsese to direct that hour. And the writer was Terence Winter, the writer who made his name on “The Sopranos.”
The show was to be about Atlantic City’s role in the prohibition era. Its lead character, unlike Tony Soprano, was a real character, Enoch Thompson, an Atlantic City ward heeler who ran the town.
Frosting on the cake: Steve Busceni, who played Tony’s cousin in “The Sopranos,” would play Thompson. I’ve admired Busceni ever since I saw him run through the wood chipper in “Fargo.”
So last month, I popped a bowl of corn one Sunday night and sat down to enjoy myself.
The show ain’t bad. But it sure ain’t no “Sopranos.”
The first problem is Busceni. Busceni made his name playing slack-jawed losers with bad teeth. In “Boardwalk Empire” he’s a tough-minded, self-confident leader.
After half an hour, I realized he should have stuck to slack-jawed.
The sets, of course, are magnificent. That’s where the $18 million comes in.
But they lack the grittiness of “The Sopranos” which was shot on location in New Jersey, and featured Satriale’s Pork Store, lots of oil storage tanks, deserted parking ramps and garbage — human and otherwise — in the streets. Such settings had the effect of immersing the viewer in a compelling and frightening atmosphere.
Even worse, writer Terence Winter, in an obvious attempt to piggyback on “The Sopranos” fame, creates story lines that echo the earlier show’s success. Obvious piggybacks.
In one scene real-life characters are introduced, including a young Al Capone, who ends up running around in guess where? The Pine Barrens, which provided black humor at its finest when two gunsels set out to murder a Russian Mafia hoodlum and instead get lost in the middle of New Jersey.
I’ve only seen one episode as this story goes to press. I can only hope that future episodes will rely on the drama of Atlantic City in the Roaring Twenties rather than a taking the easy route through Post World War II urban life.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.