Monday, June 25, 2007

Nikki Leotardo Does Not Exist, in This Life Or Any Other One

By now the image of the guy in front of AJ Soprano has become the stuff of legend, but make no mistake: This guy is most definitely NOT Nikki Leotardo, as an Internet hoax suggested. How do we know? The person who claims to have started the whole Nikki Leotardo Theory says he made the whole thing up. Careful viewers already know this. The guy (who was making his acting debut by the way) is billed as "Guy in Members Only Jacket" in the closing credits. Those duped should also know that Chase and Company would never spell Nikki like the Nikki Sixx. In fact, Christopher Swenson, the guy who claims he made up the hoax, purposely spelled it with two K's to make it look even sillier.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Request: Sopranos Top 10 and Never-Ending Links

So it goes that Mackenzie pointed out perhaps the best link about the final scene over at Print it out and read it right away, he goes so far to say it wasn't just that T died, but got himself a proper funeral. The links continue to appear even two weeks after the show ended.
We've received multiple requests for all-time favorite episodes, so I've put together my list of personal Top 10 favorite episodes in chronological order. I've linked each one to the episode description at, and some to their wikipedia page where I think there's accurate information:
  1. College: Fifth episode, season 1. As Alan Sepinwall of The Star Ledger says, the episode that suggested this wasn't just a ground breaker, but a masterpiece. Chase fought with HBO over having Tony kill Febby the Rat, and won the fight and eventually the war. Water Cooler Moments: Meadow asking Tony if he's in the mafia; Carmela almost sleeping with her priest; Tony finds a rat, kills said rat.
  2. The Knight in White Satin Armor: Penultimate episode of season 2. Water Cooler Moments: Janice fights with Richie Aprile; Richie punches Janice; Janice shoots Richie dead; Tony orders Christopher and Furio to get rid of the body; They do so by pulling a Fargo and slicing Richie up at Satriales; Carmela catching Tony fucking around ("You're putting me in a position where I feel sorry for a whore who fucks you?").
  3. Second Opinion: 7th episode, Season 3. Dominic Chianese's (Uncle Junior) finest hour as his one liners dominate the show. After three incredibly violent shows, this one focuses on Carmela wanting out of her marriage and Junior's cancer. Water Cooler Moments: Paulie sniffing Adriana's underwear; Adriana admitting that she blew Penn Jillette in Atlantic City; Carmela's psychologist demanding her to leave Tony.
  4. Amour Fou: Penultimate episode, Season 3 (notice a trend here with the penultimate shows). Tony realizes that Gloria Trillo (Anabella Schiorra) is a "full blown loop-de-loo". Water Cooler Moments: The card game that Jackie Jr. holds up, where he shoots Sunshine (played by Paul Mazursky of all people); Gloria and Tony fight ("Kill me" she begs); Gloria taking Carmela on a ride home.
  5. Whoever Did This: 9th episode, season 4. The first half hour plays like a usual drama where the audience feels sorry for Ralphie, who's son is in the hospital and may never walk or talk again. Those feelings all go to waste when Tony learns that his beloved horse died in a fire. Water Cooler Moments: Tony to Ralph -- "Did you kill that horse?"; Tony killing Ralph; Chrissy tripping out the entire time he and T "dismember" Ralphie; Ralphie wears a rug; Chrissy doing the sign of the cross before he tosses Ralphie's head in a bowling ball bag into the river.
  6. Whitecaps: Season 4 finale. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco put on an acting clinic as their marriage finally falls apart. Three scenes in particular sealed them each an Emmy Award (the ones at home where they realistically fight like never before). Water Cooler Moments: Carm throwing T out of the house; Tony blasting Dean Martin from his boat as revenge on a lawyer who won't give him his money back; Johnny Sack being "very disappointed" that Tony won't kill his boss.
  7. Long Term Parking: Penultimate episode, season 5. This time Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo get the juicy stuff to win their deserved Emmys. Water Cooler Moments: Silvio's killing of Adriana; Adriana admitting the truth about her involvement with the feds to Chrissy; Chrissy quoting Springsteen ("Highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive"); Tony telling Johnny Sack to go fuck himself. Steven Van Zandt and Drea De Matteo went to David Chase and asked him to cut out the scene where Christopher tells Tony about Adriana in order to keep Adriana's death at the hands of Silvio a surprise. The scene was later aired in the sixth season episode "The Ride", as a flashback.
  8. Members Only: First episode, season 6. The beginning of the end, and knowing not only the title of this episode but the savoring the rewards of repeat viewings clues you in to how it's all going to end. Great Hitchcock-esque episode. Water Cooler Moments: The suicide of Eugene Pontecorvo; Junior shooting Tony right in the stomach; that opening montage set to William Burroughs "Seven Souls".
  9. Kennedy and Heidi: Sixth episode of the second part of season 6. Different from any other episode in the shows history as the really big moment happens within the first 10 minutes, and it's perhaps the most shocking in series history. Water Cooler Moments: Tony killing Christopher with that cold as ice stare; Paulie ordering 500 prayer cards for his mother's wake, scheduled the same night as Chrissy's; something about Tony flying to Vegas, having sex with Christopher's hot ex-girlfriend stripper ("Do you mean I fuck like him?"), tripping out on peyote with her, and yelling "I GET IT" to end the episode.
  10. Made in America: Final episode ever. The last scene has been discussed in detail like no other scene in television history or really anything else in recent memory. Water Cooler Moments: The use of "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey as the final song in that diner, and it fits in perfectly; the killing of Phil Leotardo; a cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of Christopher, still annoying Paulie from beyond; the entire final scene, complete with 12 million interpretations; Junior not even knowing what his own name is.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Sopranos: "Focus on the Good Times"

We were all set to actually do a post on the now legendary ending of "The Sopranos", but the more time went by, the more times we watched that final scene. Then even more interpretations that started floating around, and we figured this puppy needed at least a week of breathing room before we gave it, what some would say David Chase did not provide, "closure". By Thursday of last week, Mackenzie was around to calling the entire episode "brilliant". Steven Van Zandt (or Little Steven as he can now officially go back to his day job) said on Monday, June 11th, the audience was 50/50; by Wednesday, he said it was easily 80/20 in terms of realizing that David Chase came up with an incredible ending that was true to the entire series.

More importantly, the final scene became a Sgt. Pepper type of thing for the next week, as millions everywhere looked for clues as to what really happened. There hasn't been this type
of water cooler buzz about really ANYTHING in the past five years, at least not to the point that conversations went on through the entire week. Personally, I didn't expect Tony to die in the end, and figured that Chase, as he usually did each season, got his heavy lifting in during the previous week's episode (go back and look through the show's rich history, the big stuff happens in the penultimate episode every season). Immediately following the "cut to black" as Steve Perry shouted "Don't Stop", I text messaged Mackenzie and said, "So he's dead, right?" I got calls the next day from friends I hadn't spoken to in over a year, many thinking the same thing. Some recalled Bobby Bacala's "You probably don't even hear it, when it happens" speech to Tony during the first episode of this mini-season. After watching the final scene a few more times, I thought Tony suffered one of his infamous panic attacks, and then Lorraine Bracco opened up her mouth about what she thinks happened (more on that later).

Before we get to some of the better links, it's worth recapping some of the bigger things that happened in the episode (since really, everyone is just focusing on that now legendary final scene in the diner):

  • Carlo flipped. Over the past year, Carlo -- who took over the crew that used to be captained by the likes of Richie Aprille, Ralph Ciffaretto, and Gay Vito -- was one of Tony's key guys. Finally, The Feds have their smoking gun they'd been looking for over the series entire run to nail Tony and get him on that Rico case. Even though T may have won the war with New York, this has him more riled up than anything (witness how pissed off he got when his lawyer couldn't get that damn ketchup out of the bottle, and the worried looks he and Carmela exchanged when they talked about Carlo testifying in that diner scene).
  • Paulie tried courting Bobby Bacalieri's grieving niece after Bacala's funeral by sitting next to her and undoing his pants for some breathing room. Not that this was a huge moment, I'm just pointing it out as one more reason we're all going to miss having Paulie Walnuts in our lives.
  • AJ finally got over his depression by becoming Little Carmine. Instead of joining the Army, Tony and Carm get AJ a cushy job working on a movie (script provided by Daniel Baldwin of all people) and a new BMW after he blew up his SUV. Which reminds me -- raise your hand if you figured Robert Iler was going to become a really good actor? If you're hand is raised, you're a liar. Iler went from some chubby punk to perhaps the MVP of this final season. If there's any justice in television, this kid will land a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Nomination. I always maintained Michael Imperiolli was the key supporting cog, but after Christopher died, Iler took right over and his performance was critical over the last three episodes.
  • Meadow chooses law over becoming a doctor, much to the chagrin of her parents, until they learn how much money she'll be making. But even after that, Tony goes sake-bombing with Meadow, wanting to know exactly why she took to being a lawyer. Her reasonning that it was about seeing Italians treated harshly "all those times" the feds came knocking for Tony didn't ring totally accurate. But then Meadow has always known exactly how to play her father.
  • Everyone on this show (including Dr. Melfi, to an extent) has their deal with the devil, and we finally got the chance to see Agent Harris show he's got more of Tony in him than say your average FBI agent. He cheats on his wife, and shows excitement in hearing about Phil Leotardo's demise.
  • We got the two great scenes we predicted here a few weeks ago: Tony's final confrontation with Junior, where he finally realized that old man really has no clue; and the perfectly staged murder of Phil Leotardo, from the "Say goodbye to Grandpa" line, to the FORD vehicle still moving after he was shot, ultimately crushing his head.
  • Echoing the very first episode: Chase layered the entire final episode with a killer soundtrack, so good that you could release a CD with nothing but songs from the finale. AJ and that little hottie Rhiannon listening to Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". Tony waking up to "You Keep Me Hanging On" by Vanilla Fudge. Scratch Your Name by The Noisettes blending right into The Lifeboat Party by Kid Creole & The Coconuts. And then who knew Chase was a fan of Little Feat? Tony arrives at a diner and waits for his family to LF's "All That You Dream". And evidently there was some Journey song that was like the 13th most popular song in the nation last week.

OK, the links:


Friday, June 08, 2007

There Are No Scraps In My Scrapbook

The above picture is allegedly from a scene in Sunday's Sopranos grand finale. Granted, with David Chase, you have to be careful with what seems to be real in his world. But from three pictures released by HBO, it certainly looks like we're going to get one more scene with Junior. At this point, we're all in with wherever Chase takes us, and the last four episodes of the series have shown that he has an actual end in mind, no matter how twisted it could be (and oh by the way, Steven Van Zandt is on record saying, "It's going to be controversial, it's going to be talked-about..."). Everyone's expecting the show to be like Ted Williams final at-bat (which of course was a home run). It can't be expected to make everyone happy, although last week's episode "The Blue Comet" seemed to do just that.

Ever since Tony played that cold hearted game of "Gotch yer Nose" with Christopher in the now infamous "Kennedy & Heidi" episode, shit got serious in terms of some grandiose ending. I thought Christopher killing JT Dolan, the poor sap who was forced to write "Cleaver" and was working on a "Law and Order" script at the time, was going to bring out something big. But that now seems like not only the tipping point for Chrissy to spiral further down the rabbit hole with his drug problem, but an inside joke amongst the writers.

No other television series can lay claim that they were doing some of their best work in their final episodes. Certainly not "Cheers" or even "Seinfeld", even though co-creator Larry David came back from oblivion to write the latter's series finale, which at the time was greeted lukewarm and certainly didn't deliver on the laughs that David consistently brought that show and now does with "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The big difference with the Sopranos is that David Chase has been there for every single scene of every single episode. He's gone on record saying he wanted to end the series after season 3. But it's now clear that he had an ending in mind all along.

It was teased about in every season since the third. However, Johnny Sack and Tony were never going to really go to blows because they were too good of friends, and just when Johnny was letting becoming boss go to his head, he gets thrown in the can by the Feds at the end of season 5. When John died of cancer earlier this season (after spending time with Sydney Pollack, who gave perhaps the best guest starring role in the series), nobody in New York was going to play well with Tony. Especially Phil Leotardo, who'd had it with Tony's shit since season 5.

So our last image of Tony was lying on an unmade mattress with a machine gun, waiting to blow away anyone who came through the door. This series has always been about character, and it's in Tony's character that no matter how he ends up this Sunday, he's going to see to it that Phil dies. You don't whack T's brother-in-law and consigliere(who might still be breathing) without him seeking massive revenge. Remember, this is the guy who wanted to smother his own mother with a pillow after he learned about her wanting to take him out. There's no way Phil lives past Sunday. I'm expecting his exit early in the hour.

Most critics think no matter what, The Sopranos is going to live on like a great novel through the DVD collections. The early episodes, which were filmed as far back as 1997, still hold up. So we can still go back and watch James Gandolfini's facial expressions when he comes from getting a blow job (which, from my memory, happens at least three times, only one of which he received from Carmela). My hunch is that this series is going to have a shelf life like no other show. Alan Sepinwall of The Star Ledger has picked his Top 10 episodes, and he admits to the brilliance of many of the episodes that didn't make his list. I'm sure HBO will keep the series on In-Demand for as long as it can (and why we still can't watch Larry Sanders episodes on Demand while Sex and the City is still available is one of life's great mysteries). I don't think the end is going to define the series, however The Sopranos always had an arc that linked all of the episodes. It rewards viewers who pay careful attention, even to minutiae such as lyrics in songs played as background music.

At any rate, I hope Little Steven is right, that the ending is going to be a water cooler event. The Seinfeld Finale didn't get the conversation it warranted the morning after, because ironically enough, the death of Frank Sinatra bumped it from the headlines. People were certainly buzzing on the Monday following Chrissy's demise and even more so after last week's episode. I'm thrilled that Chase found a way to get one final scene between Tony and Uncle Junior, because Gandolfini and Dominic Chianese are so great together, and nothing could be tied up without one final confrontation between those two. And come somewhere around 9:10pm Sunday, I won't have any more appointment television. And neither will HBO, no matter how hard they push "John From Cincinnati" (which is getting scathing reviews by the way). At least not until the final season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", which is supposed to air sometime this fall. When that's over, for the first time since "The Larry Sanders Show" debuted on the network, I'll seriously consider whether keeping the network on my digital cable is worth it. Because right now, there's no worthy successor to the Sanders-Sopranos-Curb reign. CLICK TO READ ENTIRE POST!