Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sopranos Fuss Highlights TV's Power

I don't watch the Sopranos. There's no good reason, really. When the series started, I had Showtime rather than HBO. And I was in graduate school, so there was not much spare time for television.

Having several obsessive-compulsive quirks, I usually get on a bandwagon early or I don't get on at all.

Sure, I've seen a few episodes. I understand why the show is both highly rated and critically acclaimed. I just haven't had the time.

Nonetheless, I have followed the saga of the show's ending closely and with great interest.

I have a high need for closure. As someone who did not watch the show, I think the open-ended ending was brilliant. If I had been a viewer, I probably would be angry.

But the debate (more than 80,000 people logged in to vote on an ESPN Radio poll) captures why I study television: stories fascinate me.

As I have indicated before, I never set out to study narrative. If I had continued my early methodology of showing television in 30-second clips, I might never have gotten it.

But I started showing entire episodes. For my dissertation (and subsequent work), participants watched an entire episode of ER. And I watched them watching.

The story draws you in. When participants find out that they will be watching ER, some are happy and some are annoyed. One young lady did a little dance.

Once the story starts, however, they get reeled in. We like stories. Homer figured this out several hundred years ago. And it fascinates me today that we're still so hooked on these stories.
Indeed, many old women call soap operas their "stories."

And since we were children, we were taught that stories have endings. We seem to get mad when that's violated, even though it's not so life-like.

There's no definitive answer about the Sopranos. The ESPN Radio vote was 50.8% in favor of the ending and 49.2% against. You cannot get much more split than that.

In the end, creator David Chase wrote the series ending that lets the story live on.

This seems more appropriate in a drama than a situation comedy, where we beg for closure. Just a few days ago, I asked my wife, "Did Ross and Rachel end up getting back together in the Friends finale?"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some say the ending was brilliant, some say it was disappointing.

My vote is that the ending was just anticlimactic.

11:38 AM  

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