Friday, 13 February 2015

At long last, the fat lady sings

SATRIALE'S; You'll meet a better class of mobster here.

Finally, finally, finally, I've seen the entire series of The Sopranos, HBO's drama of the ups and downs of life for New Jersey mobsters. It is over, the fat lady has done her bit.

I was watching The Sopranos some years ago when it was broadcast on British TV, but for reasons I've never fully fathomed, I stopped just as the show got in to its sixth and final season.

We don't have a television now, but we can watch DVDs and thanks to the kindness of a friend who lent us the entire boxed set, over the last few weeks we have waded our way through the whole show. We have seen every last bludgeoning, whacking and routine trip to "the Bing" to catch up with the antics of pole dancers.

It has been a remarkable experience and demonstrates that good storytelling makes good television. The programme was heaped with critical acclaim and even received the accolade of best television series of all time. Only as an aside, but where does that leave Triangle? (Just a British TV joke).

The thing that struck me about The Sopranos is that for all the thumping and whacking - surely at least one killing an episode - the programme was an allegory of what life is really like. Yes, really.

Mob boss Tony Soprano loves his family and at the same time wants to do the best he can in his "work". Inevitably there are tensions as the demands of family life conflict with the pressures of being an effective performer in the workplace. Family v work or family plus work or what? It's an age old problem and one that increasingly is not just something for men to wrestle with. In fact, it probably never has been one for  men alone to resolve.

You think I'm being a bit far-fetched about similarities between life in the mob and most people's day-to-day existence. Well, how about this? What is organised crime but capitalism without restriction? In an office if there's an employment problem it's time to call on the human resources department. In the mob it's time to make a bogus appointment, then bang! bang! bang! before either burying the body in the New Jersey marshes or weighing it down and tipping it off a boat at sea.

And forget mergers and acquisitions, and all that leveraged buy-out malarkey. If you're an up-and-coming Mafia capo then the trick is to point out to the hard-working schmuck who has spent years building up a profitable business that he'd be much better off taking you on as a sleeping partner than risking having his business burn down with him in it. Literally you make someone an offer they can't refuse. Take away the rules and you're free to do whatever you want if it turns a profit, which is, after all, the name of the game in business.

Whether or not The Sopranos was a masterful evocation of the struggle we call life, it remains as a solid piece of proof that entertaining television and intelligent programme making are not mutually exclusive. I'm missing it already.

Well now, there was tons of good music from The Sopranos and its theme tune, Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3, is deeply embedded in my memory, but sometimes I like to be a little contrary. I have chosen the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé. It's not being sung by two fat ladies, but Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca certainly are sopranos. Opera is not really my thing, but give this a chance, it's beautiful. To many of you it will be familiar as advertising music, but it's so much better than that.

* Picture of Satriale's Pork Store from The Sopranos by Stephen Hanafin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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