Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Sopranos: after the finale

Last night, the glorious six-season run of The Sopranos (or Soprani, as Xtina calls it) came to a subdued end here in Rome. It was just the two of us, the last of our DVD sets, and some mixed feelings. At the close of the final diner scene, Xtina stood up and said, "Pfft, I'm going to bed", eloquently summing up a recurring Italian criticism of the most misunderstood American TV import to ever reach il bel paese.

Not fair, I later pointed out. These are complex characters, in a demanding world called Jersey. There's no neat Hollywood ending here. Tony Soprano is a character plucked from the battlefields of Homer, racked with the doubts of MacBeth, as Journey's "Don't stop believing" plays in the background.

E poi?, she asked. What's next? How will these characters live on after The Sopranos?

The Soprano's legacy? Tough one. After much thought, I say, The Sopranos characters will live on, in roles the Italians can finally understand.

Here's my Fall 2008 TV lineup here in Italy:

1. Tony Sirico (Paulie "Walnuts" Gaultieri):
Takes over the role of Don Matteo (Father Matthew), the crime-fighting priest from Gubbio, one of Rai's top-rated shows. With his trademark shark-fin-sideburns and white loafers, Don "Paulie" solves crimes in this splendid Umbrian hilltown, that, despite its designation as an EU cultural heritage site, is plagued week after week by nefarious two-bit crooks. Each episode, Don "Paulie" overcomes his phobia of germs to solve complex capers. The final scene each week climaxes with a humorous misunderstanding between Don "Paulie" and the bumbling, but lovable, Carabinieri officers, usually over Paulie's shoes.

2. Edie Falco (Carmela) & Federico Castelluccio (Furio)
Falco plays Suora (Sister) Maria Elisabetta Grazia Angela, a crime-fighting nun from Benevento in a made-for-TV movie on Berlusconi's Canale 5, airing opposite Don "Paulie". To spice things up, Sister Maria Elisabetta Grazie Angela, or Suora "MEGA", has a dark secret. Her nemesis is a Napolitano cigarette smuggler played by Federico Castelluccio (Furio Giunta) with whom she may or may not have deeper feelings for. After a series of twists and turns, accompanied by an emotive score, she has a chance to put the sly smuggler away for good, but reconsiders only after he promises, in a tight profile shot that accentuates her chin and his nose, that he'll go legit. Alas, he goes back on his word (there's a larger metaphor here about the worthiness of Italian men, the critics insist, but the show's producers deny it), and he leaves Benevento for the coast. On Easter Sunday he secretly returns though, leaving a wad of cash in the offertory basket. Suora MEGA looks to the sky and smiles.

3. Dominic Chianese (Uncle "giu" Junior Soprano)
Plays senator-for-life on Telecom Italia's La 7. The government is particularly fragile. The left and right are deadlocked on everything, from troops in Afghanistan to funding for Alitalia. The paralysis is creating unrest on the streets. Each week, the wise and practical old senator builds consensus on both sides of the aisles, defeating young idealogues and the protected interests alike with a rousing speech on the floor of the Senate. Each week, the unkempt Communists are foiled and the sun shines on Rome.

4. Steven R. Schirripa (Bobby Bacala)
(Also on Telecom Italia's La 7) The pride of Italy, the Azzurri, is in trouble again. The national soccer squad is under investigation for match-fixing (an act that does not involve phone taps conducted by Telecom Italia's security team), blood-doping, tax evasion and strong-arming its way into the sale of counterfit Adidas products in the Pugliesi port city of Bari. The Italian national team faces disqualification from international competition, FIFA rules, unless they completely overhaul the front office and remove half the starters and the coach from the roster. Desperate, CONI, the Italian sports federation, turns to Coach Bacala, an unlikely choice indeed. Bacala is a butcher (macellaio) from Bologna and former anti-trust chief during the Berlusconi administration. Now that the Left is in power, Bacala is out of work, out of shape, but not out of inspiration. He accepts the offer and teaches his inexperienced squad how to be winners. They finish with a surprising third place finish in the European Cup, losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to the cheating Croatians. Bacala emerges as the big winner. Impressed with his masterful coaching, Senator "Junior" asks Bacala to come back to Rome and mediate a labor dispute with Alitalia. Bacala accepts. In last act as coach, he picks up his telefonino and calls a macellaio from Testaccio. Send a case of your best sausages to the union chief, he says. Senator "Giu" responds, "you still got it, my boy. Still got it."

5. Robert Iler (AJ Soprano)
Iler is asked to reprise his role entirely for Italian audiences on MTV Italia. Iler plays an Italian nearing 30, still living with mom and dad, spending the majority of his waking life in front of the TV and grousing about the fact there are no opportunities in Italy for guys like him. Every time his weary parents suggest he look for an entry-level job or call that nice girl whom they always see at church (and when are you going back to church, Mister!?), he testily responds, "how can I go to work or to church if I cannot afford to put gas in the car?!" Mom hands him a twenty. He spends it on 19-euro haircut. It draws the highest ratings ever among the 18-30 demo, but is canceled due to lack of advertiser interest.

Stay tuned.

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