May 1, 2006

Notes on television.

Last night, I really wanted to settle in and watch two hours of quality television: "The Sopranos" and "Big Love." I watched the first 20 minutes of "The Sopranos," then turned it off to read until "Big Love" came on. I watched 10 minutes of that, then turned it off and read until I fell asleep. I was tired and not up to the task of watching quality television. So much going on, and you've got to absorb it at the pace they impose on you. Reading is much easier and much more self-indulgent and luxurious. You can drift into your own thoughts at will and return to you old place or skip ahead or back.

But if you're looking for a place to talk about "The Sopranos" and "Big Love," go right ahead and use the comments. Don't worry about spoiling it for me. I prefer the shows spoiled. It removes the distraction of paying attention to the plot points and to see what's really happening, to concentrate on the details. I often watch these shows twice, and the second viewing is always better. That's how you know it's worth watching once.


David said...


Sorry but my opinion of quality T.V. does not include mafia dons and polygamist Mormons who, interestingly enough, have at least one thing in common; infidelity.

I like the tension in 24, though.

A good book beats all else, hands down!

Ann Althouse said...

David: By your standard, "Anna Karenina" and "Madame Bovary" are not quality books.

Dave said...

Still can't get into Big Love, infidelity or not. (How can infedility come into play in a polygamous relationship anyway?)

I thought last night's Sopranos was surprisingly good, even if it laid bear A.J. pathetic, mewling nature.

Re Karenina and Bovary: the whole of literature (at least the so-called canon) is shot through with infidelity. (This is probably true of the mass-market fiction business as well, but I've never read any of that.) I hardly think the presence or absence of infidelity is relevant to the question of whether literature (or TV) is good.

Seven Machos said...

The Great Gatsby
The Good Earth
Atlas Shrugged
The Sun Also Rises
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Bonfire of the Vanities
The World According to Garp

My God! İs there good fictıon WİTHOUT adultery?

Elizabeth said...

A bad paraphrase of Oscar Wilde: a book is neither moral nor immoral; it's either good or not.

But then we know what happened to him!

Ron said...

Ann, it seems that now TV is becoming like the movies to you!

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: Dramas watched live are.

paul a'barge said...

Hey Ann,
1. Sopranos: Maybe it's just me and my testosterone, but I'm giving the show one more week, and if whacking does not commence in prodigious quantities, I'm out of here.

On the other hand, remember my comment about A.J. and Michael Corleone in the Godfather? Well, that comparison was a huge element in this episode. You'll see A.J. clumsily drop a big hunting knife just before he knife's his uncle, and then you'll hear A.J. himself refer to the Godfather scene.

I still think it's interesting that Tony is not taking A.J. into the family business.

I leave comments about the crazy Vito behavior to others. DowntownLad, where are you with this one?

2. Big Love: Worth watching this time. You tell me just what other show in modern American television could get this quirky. I double-dare you. Bruce Dern and that sink thing? The show just does not stop.

Oh, and when Tripplehorn tells Chloe that "it's over", guess what? I bet it's not, and I rest my case on the last scene.

And, I was really proud of Margene for her perceptiveness, for her willingness to carve, and for confronting the clucking hens about the scratch in her car.

Clearly, not one of Paxton's 3 wives are shrinking violets.


Gil said...


Why watch them live?

DVR the shows and then you can pause, skip ahead, skip back, etc. to your heart's content.

Ann Althouse said...

Gil: I have both shows on HBO on Demand, but I like to watch them live for the HD widescreen.

Hazy Dave said...

So, I suppose you missed "The Simpsons", Ann? You might have enjoyed it. Principal Skinner gets into predictable trouble for making President-of-Harvard-esque statements about girls in math and science, so Springfield Elementary soon becomes two separate boys-only and girls-only schools. The "girl's math" class features questions like, "How does this number make you feel?" Heh. But I laughed out loud when the kid flautist comes onstage playing riffs from "Thick As A Brick" and everybody starts throwing stuff at him.

Jennifer said...

I haven't actually seen a Big Love episode. But, between your commentary and Television Without Pity's recaps, I'm hooked.

Cat said...

AJ - can someone smack the crap out of him already and kick him out on his lazy butt? He's so spoiled it will be his undoing. No chores, never any responsibility. He should have been made to get a job when he was a teenager. I just want to slap him silly. "Maybe we should give him his own club." Yeah, start at the top - no experience, as Carm said, even being a bus boy. Can't STAND him!

At least he got rid of the Van Helsing haircut!!

The Easter dinner scene? All I can say is, typical of any family basically.

Cat said...

I meant, my only comment on big love is the Easter scene...

TWM said...

I missed both shows last night but a friend emailed me about The Sopranos. She only had a few seconds to write and therefore only had time to talk about the Vito/Fireman deal, but to tell the truth is sounded more like a gay porn film than quality television.

Of course I am sure it played better on screen than in her brief email, but still, this is not the kind of whacking I watch a mob show for.

vbspurs said...

Sopranos? Big Love? Please.

When will you blog about United 93, or the immigration rallies, or other stuff I can link to here and thus steal eyeballs to my blog!


Jim Breed said...

"It's over for the little guy."-Patsy

The Sopranos meet Starbucks and can't get money out of the accounting system to pay for protection.

Joe said...

Sopranos reminds me of season one, when the show was remarkable because it showed the private lives of gangsters instead of them doing the standard gangster stuff. But the previews for next week indicate a little more action. Not Vito and the fireman type, the other kind. AJ has blossomed into poor schlep.

Uncle Mikey said...

Did anyone else think the lawyer looked like former MSNBC loony lefty Lawrence O'Donnell?

And what was with AJ's hair being short, then long, then short again?

XWL said...

In Big Love, the lawyer doesn't look like loony lefty Lawrence O'Donnell, he IS Lawrence O' Donnell.

(and the ultimate resource in Lawrence O'Donnell lefty lunacy, would be Cathy Seipp (part one, part two, part three))

Regarding Sopranos (didn't watch Big Love), I find the parallelism between corporate practices (Starbucks, Jamba Juice) and mobster protection rackets interesting. Especially with the possible suggestion that the corporations are far more efficient at their version of the 'shakedown' (the Starbucks manager telling the mobsters, to paraphrase 'sorry fellas, can't pay the graft, the corporate guys watch my books too closely, and if you beat me up or kill me, I'll just be replaced the next day').

(and in my mind that's a very good thing, it forces franchisees to stay consistent, and focused on service as well as the bottom line, nothing wrong with that)

JLR said...

I found this episode of "The Sopranos" to be very well done. The plotting was well executed, and had excellent symbolism and characterization.

A point needs to be made though about this particular episode:

AJ was shown watching "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" in the afternoon (I believe Carmela said "4 pm").

That is unlikely, as "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" is not aired by Cartoon Network during the daylight hours. AJ watching the show in the afternoon is, however, within the realm of possibility, as AJ could have been watching "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" on tape/DVR, or he could have been watching Adult Swim On Demand (which includes episodes of "Aqua Teen Hungerforce").

But it is important to note that the inclusion of "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" was utterly pitch-perfect. AJ was watching the ultimate slacker cartoon instead of taking care of business. This seemingly off-hand use of "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" underscores the importance of the motif of television as found in "The Sopranos."

By the way, it is my contention that "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" is the best (made-for-Cartoon-Network) Adult Swim cartoon.

XWL said...

By the way, it is my contention that "Aqua Teen Hungerforce" is the best (made-for-Cartoon-Network) Adult Swim cartoon.

JLR, I must respectfully disagree (which really means I must angrily call you an idiot, usually), but the best made for AS show has been Robot Chicken. Cleary the best stop-motion animated sketch show featuring children's toys ever, bar none.

Of course you are entitled to your opinion, as I am mine (but you are wrong and I am right).

Apologies to anyone else not interested in this bit of threadjacking.

As far as the use of Aqua Teen Hunger Force as shorthand for how slackerrific AJ was behaving, I agree that it was just about the best choice of what could have been shown on the TV screen during that scene.

jinnmabe said...

my opinion of quality T.V. does not include mafia dons and polygamist Mormons

Wait, I'm confused, I thought there was a disclaimer at the beginning that they weren't Mormons. Did that end?

MrsWhatsit said...

Luckily, there's not much danger that this problem you're having with quality television will force you to turn "American Idol" off in the middle tonight . . .

Jenny D. said...

My prediction: The theme for the next seasons is "outing." Vito outs himself. And he will out the family when his gay lover convinces him to REALLY write a book.

Ann Althouse said...

MrsWhatsit: You're right. I love the personal freedom junk TV leaves me. And I can blog during to show!

David said...

I tire of reading about the bored rich (Madame Ovary) and Tolstoy's version of the Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina. Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov sate my appetite for passionate love, revolutions, and the false perception that Doctor's are Gods and not subject to Human vagaries/shortcomings. Is it just me or did the old TV series Dallas seem like Bolshevik Russia without the snow?

I prefer Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Thucydides when it comes to literary discussions of human frailties.

MrsWhatsit said...

Another good thing about American Idol is that it is possible to knit a lace sock while watching it. I discovered last night that this is not such a good idea while watching "24," unless one wants to spend the next hour fixing one's knitting mistakes.

Does this mean that "24" is quality television?

FXKLM said...

It was announced today that The Comeback is going to be released on DVD. I remember Ann liked that quite a bit. I should remember to rent it when it comes out.

Revenant said...

I tire of reading about the bored rich

I tire of culture snobs, but life is hard; we must all endure.

I prefer Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Thucydides.

Yeah, you know what? They're not writing anymore, and you can easily finish all of their existing works in under a year. Then what? Sit around complaining, I guess.

PatCA said...

Mrs. Whatsit,
Yes, much of TV is made for sporadic viewing patterns. I cannot do laundry or anything else during 24, so I don't watch it much. One missed scene and one is hopelessly behind.

I'm a little disappointed in Sopranos as it's getting kind of soapoperatic, but still and yet it's good movie quality stuff. And AJ is not such a bad kid--who didn't lay around a lot when young?

Meanwhile, Simpsons was quite good this week, with Principal Skinner as Larry Summers. All the proper villains were satirized. Anyone see it?

David said...


Then you read them again!