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‘Sopranos’ weren’t the ‘good guys’

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Despite the entertainment media’s hyped promise of excitement and mystery in the long awaited finale, I must admit that I did not watch the final episode of “The Sopranos.” I suppose I probably should point out that I also did not view the opening episode nor any of its eight-year run with the exception of one which my son asked me to tape while he was at work that particular evening. I found no redeeming value whatsoever.

That one viewing was enough to last me at least two lifetimes. Sandwiched between incredibly foul and vulgar language were thuggery, senseless violence, adultery, extortion, racism and murder, all of which painted Tony Soprano as a social pariah who compared favorably (or unfavorably) with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Oddly enough, with the impending termination of this show, one is informed by the entertainment gurus that The Sopranos was perhaps the most influential series of all time in that it transformed Tony Soprano, a murderous Mafia boss into a lovable family man.

To be perfectly honest and more than somewhat proud of it, the appeal of “The Sopranos” as entertainment of artistic excellence or social value is beyond my comprehension. At the risk of being considered woefully out of touch with the attraction of today’s entertainment venue, I tend to describe myself as a member of the “Gunsmoke” generation of TV fans. Programs such as “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” “Perry Mason” and “The Untouchables” for example, featured ample violence and criminal activity; nevertheless, they also adhered to one central theme. The good guys always won, women were respected and your mind did not beg to be decontaminated.

Those of us from that generation were also into television drama and comedy but, without the vulgarity, sexual innuendo and social engineering which has largely replaced both story line and acting today. We may well be considered old-fashioned and a bit prude compared with today’s entertainment medium customers, but we recognize talent and taste when we see it. We do not spend time and money on such box office abominations as the recently released movie “Knocked Up,” consider “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” Academy Award material or accept car chases, explosions and expenditure of more ammunition than was required on Iwo Jima as a substitute for the likes of “Casablanca” or “Shane.”

Returning to the original subject, “The Sopranos,” it was both interesting and appalling to learn the concerns of the show’s loyal aficionados. On-edge followers wondered whether Tony would go to jail or get whacked. Would he enter the witness protection program? Would his family get gunned down in the restaurant? Would the Three Stooges meet Tony Soprano in a movie adaptation?

Apparently, the fans’ fears were suitably allayed as Tony Soprano was allowed to remain on the green side of the grass — very possibly for the option of reviving the series in the future. While it has enjoyed limited success in movies and television, a return from the grave, regardless of how popular the figure, is a bit difficult to accept. However, I suppose that in gangster terms, the final show had a happy ending as the dastardly Mafioso who had ordered a hit on fan-favorite Tony was himself unceremoniously sent to his maker by way of a bullet to the head.

Contrast this if you please with his fate had he faced Marshal Dillon of Dodge City. Tony Soprano’s run of eight years would have been reduced to a span of not more than two weeks at a maximum. Today’s warm and fuzzy mob boss would have met one of two ends, either lying dead in the streets of Dodge with Matt sighing sadly at the waste of a life gone bad or Tony being transported to Hayes by the marshal for a proper hanging.

Somehow, I find this climax infinitely more satisfying.

J. Karl Miller retired as colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.


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