Friday, September 8

Da best thing on TV

Gangsters are just too cool for The Sopranos not to be good, says Nick Yates

What, you say? Tony Soprano frickin’ shot and fighting for his life as the credits roll? What’s with Vito’s dramatic weight loss, and will the muscle side of the family still be the Stuggots after Gene’s dramatic suicide? The first episode of the sixth and - so we’re told - final series of The Sopranos last week remained as daring and delightful as ever. Could the cliffhanger-following second episode maintain the pace (Thursday, E4, 10pm)?

Well, in short, no. This one had a dreamy quality as Tony drifted in and out of consciousness in an expensive hospital bed. Nevertheless, the sense of emotion is powerful, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s by far and away the best thing on TV.

The papers have been full since this time last week of comment pieces on the demise of British drama, relative to the powerhouse US network HBO. It’s hard to believe we once came out with Our Friends in the North and Cracker.

This is made even more embarrassing by what our fat friends across the Atlantic Ocean have been churning out - not only The Sopranos, but 24, The Shield, Six Feet Under, House, Deadwood, the list goes on.

Even Ricky Gervais has come out and hinted he will defect after the soon-to-hit-our-airwaves second series of Extras and make a dark and weighty drama for HBO.

The newspaper columnists guessed at lots of reasons for this parlous state of affairs. Where as in America, TV is dominated by directors like The Sopranos’ David Chase and Six Feet’s Alan Ball, here the penny counting producers are in charge. Or maybe there simply isn’t the creative talent behind our goggle box output that there was 5, 10 or 15 years ago.

However, they all seem to be missing one stark fact that makes The Sopranos so great. Gangsters are cool. It’s simple in this humble reviewer’s opinion. Give the camera to someone capable of operating it, the typewriter to someone willing to cover provocative subject matter and deep characters, and don’t use actors from Hollyoaks, The Bill or Casualty. Throw in a smattering of music that hasn’t stopped to tell the charts the time of day in the past 15 years, multiply all that by “gangster”, and you can’t fail.

One aspect of TV produced within our shores that provides a shaft of sunshine is comedy. Time Trumpet (BBC2, 10pm) is one such show fighting the good fight. This direct descendent from The Day Today drew my attention in the ad breaks between E4’s finest.

This week, the subject of the spoof talking heads documentary on futuristic current affairs is racism. Laught at the BNP. So wrong, yet so right. Brilliant.

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