I watch less TV than you may think, reading this space. Sunday nights on HBO are pretty much my only appointment viewing, and everything else pops up on my screen when I’m too tired to do much of anything else. However, it seems I write about everything I watch, so.
Last night we watched the American Idol audition show. God knows why, but it seemed like the closest thing to family TV on in the 8 p.m. time slot, and Kate thinks Simon is funny. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with some of the people we saw and the things they said, bleeped or not, and I’m relieved they saved Rhonetta for the last moments of the 9 o’clock hour, by which time Kate was long abed. But on the whole, it was amusing to see the parade of Idol aspirants and their atrocious singing. Where did they ever get the idea they were good at it? Bad shower acoustics, or karaoke? Or do they know they suck, and are just hoping to get a particularly pungent poke from Simon? I know that’s why I’d be there.
Anyway, I think Tom Shales gets it just right: ‘Idol’ is the newest reiteration of American vaudeville. We can’t throw rotten tomatoes, so Simon does it for us.
Something else I’ve been watching lately: “Sopranos” reruns. HBO is showing the last season and the earliest ones on two different nights. I’m struck, watching the first two seasons from a distance of five years or so, how clearly you see the shift in David Chase’s writing (or instructions to the writers). About a third of the way through season two, you can see where he got fed up with hearing critics and viewers describe Tony as a nice guy, and started underlining precisely what he is — not a nice guy. Not nice at all. The season two wrapup, which ends with a Mafia-movie cliche, a montage of evil images intercut with the crime boss’ above-board, “good” life, was particularly well-done (for a cliche). All the season’s plot lines were wrapped up, in a parade of lonely images that were all aftermath, after Tony has done his dirty work — Meadow’s friend’s father, packing up his car to start his life over as a ranch hand, after Tony busted out his business over gambling debts; the junkie nodding out in the lobby of the Hasidic-run hotel, once a respectable business, now a whore’s nest; the parade of lonesome losers going in and out of the porno book stores; and, finally, the waves crashing on the shore, under which Tony’s best friend, Big Pussy the FBI informant, sleeps with the fishes, sent there by Tony Himself.
I think the series could have ended right there. But I’m glad it didn’t. I think the further explorations of how the evil permeates his life and corrupts everything it touches — his wife, his children — were worthwhile. Over and over again, Tony sees this — the episode where he briefly adopts his late father’s mistress was wonderful — but can’t quite accept it, and chooses to turn away. It’s the choice that kills you.