HBO’s mecha-popular “Sopranos” is just dumb enough that most everyone enjoys it. Unfortunately for Tony and the fam (who you know does it better!), the last two seasons of the show have been just plain dumb. At its inception, David Chase put together one of the best debut seasons this side of “Twin Peaks.” But David Lynch’s vehicle was ultimately too smart, too well directed and too intelligent for network television and was canned prematurely.

Paul Wong
Luke Smith

“The Sopranos” never had to worry about being intelligent. It is effectively the WWE of television drama, with its fair share of violence, sex and bada boobies – which is not to say I don’t like violence, sex or bada boobies, I’m only saying it has plenty of all three – not exactly highbrow entertainment. Sure, there is the dichotomous interplay of the tandem families in troubled father/mob boss Tony Soprano’s life, but after two seasons, the plotlines ran dry and the fanboys and girls and women and men refuse to realize their (and America’s) favorite non-network-television show is slipping down the proverbial toilet.

During its first and second season, the show’s writing was razor sharp. The acrid slow burn of Big Pussy’s betrayal had plenty of time to bubble and percolate (almost two seasons of build-up) until it boiled over in the season two finale. The plotlines of the developing “Soprano” families were interesting and involving – not to mention well-directed.

The show deserved the consistent comparison to cinema, because during the first two seasons, each episode was a tightly wrought 45-55 minute movie.

However, it wasn’t all good: The show’s 10th episode, “A hit is a hit,” was a travesty, with the introduction of a rapper, Massive Genius and Adriana’s perked interest in the music interest proved to be little more than a speed bump in the show’s overarching plotline.

Fast forward to the third season, which started off brilliantly, picking up perfectly where the second left off. The FBI bugging Tony’s house to the soft bounce of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” merged with the “Peter Gunn Theme” made this episode one of the show’s best.

The third season was a season of terrible coincidence and even-worse plotlines. The once masterfully interwoven multi-tiered plotlines that littered the first two seasons were replaced with trite, overblown storylines out of both balance and touch. It is real cute how Meadow falls in love with Jackie Jr.: “That will be convenient when we kill him later in the season,” thought the brains behind this horrid plot point.

Compounding the craptacular Jackie Jr. plotline, was the Dr. Melfi rape. Again, the show’s writers at the water machine, undoubtedly talking with their hands, “Through sexual violence, we’ll be able to have Dr. Melfi overcome her attraction to the power of the mafia. It will be brilliant and muy dramatic.”

This season is a travesty. More of the same shoddy planning has driven viewers into plotlines like Carmella and Furio getting misty for one another, Adrianna is being courted by the feds, Christopher’s drug problem is threatening the family, Tony’s ex-girlfriend hooked up with a politician and now daddy Soprano is crying over a dead horse.

Furio does not ever need to be seen crying. Furio kills people. It is impossible to believe he could actually be tricked into thinking Carmella is remotely attractive. Along the same lines of imagination, it is yet another wonderful coincidence that of all of the men in the N.J.-area, Iriana happens to fall into Zellman’s lap.

Christopher managed to kill the dog last week he was so cooked on smack and with him set to inherit the throne, things aren’t looking good for Tony et al. But who cares? No one should, because of the metered mediocrity of this season.

Even the once-tight directing is slipshod. The lighting changed horribly during last week’s episode where Tony boffed the one-legged woman. Need I mention the Columbus Day episode? These subplots make the James-Evelyn subplot of “Twin Peaks” second season look absolutely fabulous.

Die-hard “Sopranos” fans are kidding themselves if they tolerate the last two seasons of the show. Calling acrid waste “the best show on TV” shows what a nuclear dump TV actually is.

The multiple storylines have become convoluted and congruent with that, the direction and writing has sank with Raphine’s corpse. Yet, we’ll all tune in every week no matter how atrocious the show becomes. The main reason “Sopranos” is so terrible now is because how good it can be. We’re all watching “The Sopranos” second consecutive train-wrecked season and we’re all rubbernecking in HBO’s general vicinity.

Luke Smith can be reached at lukems@umich.edu.

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