The Sopranos Season 5 (HBO)
Written by Terence Winter, David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Michael Caleo, Toni Kale, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Michael Imperioli
Directed by Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, John Patterson, Rodrigo Garcia, Allen Coulter, Peter Bogdonavich, Steve Buscemi, Mike Figgis
Season five of The Sopranos begins with what might be seen as some retconning or lore building. A group of convicted New Jersey & New York family members are all released around the same time after serving their sentences and prove to be an injection into the current system that threatens to spin things out of control. Tension has been building between Tony and New York’s liaison Johnny Sac since the last season, and now it appears as though their friendship will be shattered by these new arrivals and some shake-ups in New York’s leadership. In some ways, the new arrivals are taking threads of new versus old ways of operating seen between Tony & Ritchie in season two and allowing them to be explored and developed even further.
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The Sopranos Season 4 (HBO)
Written by David Chase, Terence Winter, Michael Imperioli, Maria Laurino, Robin Greene, Mitchell Burgess, Nick Santora, Lawrence Konner, David Flebotte
Directed by Allen Coulter, John Patterson, Tim Van Patten, Jack Bender, Henry J. Bronchtien, Steve Buscemi, Dan Attias, Alan Taylor, James Hayman
Season Four of The Sopranos is one of those brilliant artistic constructions that begins with such nuance and then dazzles in the finale. The season close has one of the best scenes between Tony & Carmela the show has ever presented, more on that a little later. So many of the plot threads here were seeded in season three and very carefully cultivated and developed over that season and this one. Once again, Ralph is an ever-present pest and a reminder of what Tony is/could become.
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I May Destroy You (2020)
Written & Directed by Michaela Coel
I had a hard time finishing this series. It’s a heartbreaking mini-series written by Michaela Coel, who should’ve gotten all the praise but was snubbed for any Emmys when it was released in 2020.
The title of the show questions who it is that Arabella (Michaela Cole) might destroy. Will she destroy her friends? Her enemies? Her career? Herself?
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The Sopranos Season 3 (HBO Max)
Written by David Chase, Todd A. Kessler, Henry J. Bronchtein, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Terence Winter, Salvatore J. Stabile, Lawrence Konner, Michael Imperioli, Frank Renzulli
Directed by Allen Coulter, Tim Van Patten, John Patterson, Jack Bender, Dan Attias, Steve Buscemi
The first thing I immediately noticed watching this season’s premiere was that the look & tone had changed. In my review of season one, I noted that I had a sort of confusion when seeing promos for the series about whether it was a dramedy or a mob show. I think in season three, David Chase has become very comfortable with the creativity afforded to him by being on HBO and starts leaning into the darker moments even more. That doesn’t mean the show’s sense of humor goes out the drain; it’s just that the show really starts to show us how bad Tony’s world can get. The shadows and darker lighting also serve as a metaphor for how Tony is sinking further into his habits, chained to his position of the boss and actually less free now.
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The Sopranos Season Two (HBO)
Written by Jason Cahill, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Frank Renzulli, David Chase, Terence Winter, Todd A. Kessler, Michael Imperioli
Directed by Allen Coulter, Martin Bruestle, Lee Tamahori, Tim Van Patten, John Patterson, Henry J. Bronchtein
In the wake of season one’s success, it becomes clear that David Chase is pumping the brakes. While he adds new characters and explores the backstories of his characters, thematically, he stays put, preferring to mine deeper into these ideas. The result is one of the best seasons of television I have ever watched, my investment in the characters at some of the highest levels I’ve ever experienced. Chase has expressed a strong disdain for television grown out of his experiences working with networks in the 1980s & 90s. The constant focus on surface-level content like sex & violence worked prohibitively against exploring human existence. Free from those restraints, he was able to produce something as remarkable as The Sopranos, a show which has been copied again & again by showrunners across the spectrum.
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The Sopranos Season 1 (HBO)
Written by David Chase, Mark Saraceni, Jason Cahill, James Manos Jr., Frank Renzulli, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Joe Bosso
Directed by David Chase, Dan Attias, Nick Homez, John Patterson, Allen Coulter, Alan Taylor, Lorraine Senna, Tim Van Patten, Andy Wolk, Matthew Penn, Henry J. Bronchtein
I was a high school student working at my local library when I first encountered the Sopranos. I think I was thumbing through the newest issue of Time or Newsweek we’d just had delivered and found a full-page ad announcing the premiere of the show. I was a little confused, being someone who only had seen television series on network television. The ad read, “Welcome to the family.” Tony Soprano stood in the center. To his left were the principal members of his crew, and to his right were the members of his family and his psychiatrist. I wasn’t sure if this was a serious drama or a sitcom about a mob boss. We didn’t have HBO at home, so I didn’t think much about it. In my freshman year of college, I probably became aware of the show’s popularity, but it wouldn’t be until around 2003 that I checked out the first season from the library and watched it. Life got in the way, and I never continued the series until now.
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And so we come to the finale. This chunk of Saturday Night Live where they lost me. I’d watched at varying levels since I was a teenager, but by season 41, I just didn’t find it remarkably funny anymore. It certainly got worse when Trump became president, and the show pivoted into the most shallow critique of him, not on policy ever but instead on what a meanie he was or mocking his hair. Those sort of pointless jokes signals a lack of perspective, in my opinion, a writing staff that has been declawed or never had any, to begin with. All the while, the show made sure to hold up people like Jeff Bezos as heroic and pen jokes for Update criticizing citizen-led protests against Amazon warehouses. SNL affirmed its place as a comedy for the bourgeoisie.
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Sense8 Season 1 and 2 (2015-2018)
Written by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, J. Michael Straczynski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
Directed by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue, and Dan Glass
Sense8 was one of those shows I missed out on when Netflix when it premiered in 2015. It had two seasons and got canceled due to its expensive budget since they filmed on location. I toyed with the idea of watching it for the longest time. Due to my lack of commitment to some things, I sometimes hesitate to go into things people love or find great comfort in. Word of mouth can be so grand that when you finally get you can feel like a jerk for perhaps not enjoying it as much as others do.
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Saturday Night Live was never a controversial show. If anyone took offense to the comedy being presented, then they have to be one of the most sheltered people on the planet. You can feel the punches being pulled at every turn when it comes to politics. Or when they want to take jabs, it’s entirely superficial rather than writing clever political comedy (see everything Armando Iannucci has done). The 2010s were, for me, the sign that SNL was becoming a piece of processed cheese, it looked okay, but you weren’t craving it. The people involved were always much funnier outside the show than in it. The perfect example is 2011’s Bridesmaids, which showed Kristin Wiig being much more entertaining than I ever found her on SNL.
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Saturday Night Live changed in some subtle cosmetic ways, but it didn’t really do much in terms of content. You had the same recurring character sketches and one-off bits, with those often tucked away in the show’s latter half. Commercial parodies would usually be played after the host’s opening monologue with a digital short after a musical guest. Weekend Update came in the middle of the show, and this is just the formula the show continues to this day. Season 31 was the first year the feed was changed from video to digital, leading to the show being presented in a widescreen format.
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