Tag Archives: The Sopranos

TV’s Golden Age Not Necessarily Over Just Yet

8 Nov

The Four PIllars

Andy Greenwald wrote an article on Grantland which probably wasn’t intended to be trolling, but it came off that way to me, and I felt the need to refute it, particularly because people constantly make arguments like this, if not as specific as this in particular. His argument in short is that television’s “Golden Age” is over. I’m very skeptical of the concept of a “Golden Ages” in general; it reeks of nostalgia for times that weren’t necessarily any better or worse than any other, but seem that way in memory, but I’ll follow along. I willing to accept in principle that certain eras aren’t necessarily as good as others, and that all seasons of television are not equal. However, I think both that his argument in broad strokes is wrong and that the claims he makes to get there are wrong a swell. I’ll break it down in further depth below, but quickly, the biggest issue is that his judgment of the entire previous golden era is particularly rendered less valuable because he’s only judging by using the shows at the very top. He then goes out to knock the “medium-level” shows he calls them in this era, without naming the examples of medium level shows that made the Golden Age great.

He uses what I like to call, or will probably start calling after this, the Four Pillars of TV Greatness (TM). These four are in order of airing: The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. They’re four undeniable great shows, and if you asked for the greatest dramas of all time, there’s a better than even chance they’d finish as the top four of any poll of enough critics or knowledgeable TV viewers. He talks about a Golden Age, but to be clear, he’s talking about these four shows.  He speaks as if he means to cover a greater swath, as if those four just provided cover and inspiration for a flourishing run of good-but-not-as-good shows beneath their wings, but not a single other show is named after the those four, and while there are others that could easily qualify (Deadwood and Six Feet Under, at the least), I think it’s important to mention that these are the ONLY FOUR he mentions to represent what he describes as the Golden Age.

Greenwald then goes off and reels off several current shows that don’t meet his standard for Golden Age inclusion, whether because they’re simply not as good (Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and Homeland, and outside of Homeland’s legitimately brilliant world-class first season, you’ll get no argument there from me) or much more strangely because they are great but they’re genre show, in the case of Game of Thrones (and to a lesser extent Orphan Black), which somehow don’t qualify as Golden Age-worthy because they contribute to other negative trends in television, regardless of their own quality.

The show he most associates with this gilded age of television is The Walking Dead, which he backhandedly notes that even though he’s not a fan, he acknowledges it’s the most important and influential show of the past five years. Without speaking on the quality of the show, on which I stand somewhere in the middle, I disagree strongly with his assertion. While that same statement may yet be true in five years, it really isn’t; Walking Dead’s influence is only beginning to be felt as we still wade our way out of the Age of the Antihero, which still, though waning, dominates television (three of the Four Pillars are antihero shows – The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, along with Boardwalk Empire, Justified, House of Cards, Sons of Anarchy, and plenty of lesser fare). Honestly, whether true or not, this is really off-topic from the central argument so we’ll move back in that direction.

Greenwald goes on to talk about how networks aren’t taking chances anymore, and that’s surely true, but that was also very much true five or ten years ago. None of the Four Pillars were network shows. Four shows got through the cracks and struck gold. He claims it’s systematic failure that as many quality shows aren’t coming through the pipeline, but I’d claim it’s just odds and not enough time.

Let’s not forget as well that one of the Four Pillars is still on, with two seasons to go, and one ended a mere month and a half ago. Game of Thrones is an admittedly great show, and I’m not sure why it’s a knock that it’s a genre show or that it’s based on source material, especially just because in influences other less good shows (first, something every new and interesting show does, second – is it a knock on Pearl Jam that so many lousy bands were influenced by it?). Shows come in waves, and influence of the biggest and best play a large part, for better or worse. Mad Men was very much influenced by The Sopranos. Greenwald complains about a prestige mad libs, and he’s by no means incorrect, but that’s also exactly what Mad Men was. You can give Mad Men credit for inventing that formula, but as mentioned, it stole plenty from The Sopranos.

Logical complaints aside, I’d argue that he’s not looking closely enough to find the good stuff. Last Spring alone saw the debut of four new dramas, each with the potential to be great, and although the odds are against any of them becoming an all-time great, that’s true for any show, and promise is really all you can ask for.

Rectify, the best, airs on Sundance channel, and stands in particular contradiction to Greenwald’s claims as it doesn’t fit into any of the boxes Greenwald is complaining about. Rectify is about a man exonerated from death row after twenty years imprisoned back into the small Georgia town in which he grew up. It’s a small show in the way Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are big, and it’s exceptionally, moving, human, beautiful and heartbreaking in different degrees.

The Americans admittedly kind of fits Greenwald’s prestige formula, but it transcends it, and even Greenwald acknowledging The Americans as the best new series of last year.

Orphan Black, Greenwald already acknowledged as well as an excellent show, and, though it’s a genre show, it certainly doesn’t fit into either the prestige or the bigger is better formula.

Hannibal, admittedly, it less new and interesting than the other three, and probably will end up as good and not great, but it’s especially notable for its gorgeous cinematography and its compelling psychological battling between protagonists Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter which elevate a cop show above the norm.

Remember, if we’re to match his Golden Age, we only need four. My point is not that these four shows are great and replacements for the Four Pillars, but that if even one of them can become great, than really all we need is one new great show each year. I could name lots of good but flawed shows a la Boardwalk Empire from the Golden Age – Lost, Alias, The West Wing, True Blood, 24, and more but it doesn’t matter, because there were some great ones. Now, some people may like some of the good ones better than others, but that’s always the case. Additionally, people will and have always copied successful shows. Lost spawned a thousand attempts at supernatural mystery shows, not one of which has really become successful (Heroes was the closest) and The Sopranos has directly led to Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and less directly many others.

There’s no reason to believe that the Golden Age is over because there are a lot of new bad and new mediocre shows. There are always a lot of new bad and new mediocre shows. All there have to be is a couple great ones. There are, and there’s no systematic reason that a few more won’t appear in the coming years.

Who had the most affairs? Tony Soprano vs. Don Draper

10 Jul

Tony's hungry

In the light of The Sopranos’ star James Gandolfini’s unfortunate recent passing, and the end of Mad Men’s sixth and penultimate season, there’s no better time to answer the most pressing question concerning those two shows.  Who cheated on his wife with more women, Tony Soprano or Don Draper?  To find out we’ll dive through the respective sordid pasts of these two legendary television philanderers, going back and forth one-fo-one chronologically between the shows.  Because the Sopranos started first, we’ll start with Tony.  Apologies if I’ve missed any; I did my best to scour through the episodes of both shows for every affair, no matter how brief, but these two characters didn’t make it easy.


Irina Peltsin – One of the two longest extramarital relationships Tony is involved in over the course of the series, Irina is Tony’s comare from the pilot until the second to last episode of the second season when he attempts to break up with her, thinking she deserves to have a real life.  She doesn’t take it well, breaking down and trying to kill herself, which will be the start of somewhat of a tradition for Tony’s mistresses.  Tony sends Silvio over to her place to give her a nice $75,000 severance package and urge her to move on.


Midge Daniels – Like Tony, Don Draper is cheating on his wife from the get go.  In the first episode we meet the bohemian artist Midge who seems fittingly more reminiscent of the late ‘50s than the ‘60s.  Seemingly opposites, they  nevertheless have a fairly good run, as one of Don’s longer extramarital affairs, lasting until the eight episode of the first season, when Don unsuccessfully tries to get her to go to Paris with him. Things don’t go well after that for Midge who shows up in a later season as a drug addict.


Connie Desapio – Desapio is a receptionist at Barone Construction, a Soprano family operation which Tony spends some time at, based on legal advice to appear like he’s actually doing the job he claims to have.  They have sex to pass the time in season two, episode 11, “House Arrest” until Tony goes back to Satriale’s eventually out of boredom.

Department Store Heiress


Rachel Menken – Rachel, who initially hires the firm to create interest for her department store, was a very different kind of woman from Midge.  She meets done in the series’ first episode as a client, and initiaully rebuffs Don’s advances, upon finding out that he’s married.  They finally begin the affair in the tenth episode of the first season.  She puts the kibosh on the affair in the 12th episode of the first season, when, after Don proposes running away to LA together, she realizes that he just wants to run away, but not necessarily with her.

Globe Motors Saleswoman


Gloria Trillo – Trillo is a car salesman who Tony meets in Dr. Melfi’s office in season three’s “He is Risen.”  The most mentally unstable of Tony’s affairs, which is a dubious honor, she tries to provoke Tony into violent reactions.  Tony breaks up with her because of this, and Patsy Parisi threatens her, telling her to never come near Tony or his family again.  Later she hangs herself.


Bobbie Barrett – Barrett, introduced in season two’s “The Benefactor,” is married to and manages insult comic Jimmy Barrett, who Sterling Cooper recruits to appear in ads for Utz potato chips.  Barrett is the only woman Don sleeps with that we know is married, and she affirmatively seduces Don, who makes a brief attempt to turn her down.  The affair hits an awkward moment when Don and Bobbie are caught in a car accident together, but ends finally when Don finds out Bobbie has been gossiping about him behind his back.



Valentina La Paz – La Paz is the other long-time Tony Soprano comare.  She’s dating Ralph Cifaretto at the time that Tony and her get together after having lunch at Hesh’s house in season four episode “Mergers and Acquisitions.”  Tony breaks up with Valentina towards the end of season five when he arranges to move back in with Carmela, after she suffers a serious burn injury.  She, continuing a pattern, threatens to kill herself when he leaves.


Joy – In season two, episode 11, “The Jet Set”, Don takes a trip out to Los Angeles, where he meets a young woman, Joy, near the pool at his hotel. They attend a surreal dinner party and afterwards have sex.  Later, she and her friends and her dad move to the Bahamas, while Don returns to reality in New York.


Svetlana Kirilenko – Tony and Kirilenko, earlier comare Irina’s cousin and Junior’s nurse, have sex just once, as far as we know, in season four episode “The Strong, Silent Type.”  She is far and away the most put together woman Tony cheats with on the show and she breaks off their relationship, though Irina later spills the beans to Carmela, helping to lead to Tony and Carmela’s separation.


Shelly – In the first episode of season three, “Out of Town,” Don meets a stewardess named Shelly on a flight to Baltimore.  She invites him and Sal to dinner at the hotel at which they’re all staying and after their meal, one thing leads to another.


Sonya Aragon – An exotic dancer Chris used to hang out with, Tony meets up with her in Las Vegas after Chris’s death in season six episode “Kennedy and Heidi.”  They have sex, smoke weed, and take peyote.



Suzanne Farrell – Suzanne and Don first meet during a parent teacher conference in the second episode of season three while she’s Sally’s teacher.  They meet several times before the relationship becomes romantic.  She’s a bit of a hippy, and has a troubled brother who she cares for deeply.  She falls for him and wants to go out together in public, something Don almost grants while Betty is out of town.  The affair ends when Betty returns early and inquires about Don’s past which causes Don to call Suzanne to let her know it’s over.

Sylvia Rosen


Sylvia Rosen  – It seemed like Don had finally become faithful with Megan, but his faith waned at the start of the most recent sixth season when it turns out he’s been having an affair with neighbor Sylvia.  This affair was doubly nefarious because Don seemed to actually like Sylvia’s husband Arnold, and there aren’t very many people in Mad Men that Don likes.  The affair came to a temporary end when Don was simply too cruel and Sylvia decides it’s over, but is rekindled when Don helps get Sylvia’s son out of serving in Vietnam.


Betty Francis – Yes, I almost forgot this but Don cheats on his second wife with his first wife.


Don takes a tight 8-6 victory, but with all the other people Don and Tony must have slept with before the shows started, who can possibly say what the actual score might be.

A couple of quick notes on women who were excluded:

This is a comparison of women Don cheated with, so in season four, when he was divorced, all his affairs were on the up and up.  Still for completion’s sake, here’s a quick rundown of all the women he slept with in season four.  His most ongoing relationship was with the age appropriate Faye Miller, a ratings analyst who he breaks up with at the end of the season when he instead chooses to be with Megan, who he proposes to soon after.  In between, he sleeps with a call girl Candace, in the first episode of the fourth season, a secretary named Allison whose heart he breaks in the second episode, a waitress named Doris in the sixth episode as well another unnamed woman, and Roger’s wife’s Jane’s friend Bethany in the eighth episode.

Tony was separated from Carmela for most of the fifth season of The Sopranos, so I chose not to count any sleeping around during the separation.  In the 11th episode of the fifth season, “The Test Dream,” he hires an escort while he’s staying at the Plaza, and they presumably sleep together. In the first episode of season four, Tony and his gang party with a bunch of Icelandic stewardesses but there’s no clear evidence indicating Tony necessarily slept with any of them.  Tony almost has an affair with real estate agent Juliana Skiff, but they never consummate it as Tony decides to remain faithful to Carmela, and Skiff and Chris take up together instead.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Michael Gaston

11 Jan

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

We love character actors who play rich white guys here at the Zejlko Ivanek Hall of Fame and this week we’ll be celebrating on of the less well known entrants, Michael Gaston, who has experience playing rich white men and police officers, and who has gotten more and more work as the years have gone on.

He began his career in the mid-90s, with his first role in an episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete.  In the 90s, he appeared in single episodes of New York News, New York Undercover, One Live To Live, Homicide: Life on the Street, andSpin City.  He was in three episodes of The Profiler and played the title character in TV movie Nathan Dixon.  He appeared in the pilot episode of The Sopranos as CPA Alex Mahaffey.  He works for Blue Cross/Blue Shield and participates in a scheme to defraud Medicare with Tony and Hesh to get himself out of debt he acquired through gambling.  To convince him to participate in the scheme, Hesh and Big Pussy threaten to throw him over a waterfall, after Tony hits him with his car and Christopher and Tony beat him.

In the early 2000s, he was in episodes of Third Watch, The $treet,100 Centre Street and two of Now and Again.  He was in TV movie Cora Unashamed and appeared in Oz as death row prisoner Shirley Bellinger’s (played by Kathryn Erbe) ex-husband.  He was a recurring character on one season Oliver Platt drama Deadlien and appeared in two episodes each of Ally McBeal, Ed, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  He appeared in five Law & Order episodes over the course of the series run as five different characters, with the first appearance in 1994 and the last in 2009.  In 2009’s Bailout, he played a Wall Street CEO for a sinking investment bank who is at first accused of murdering his girlfriend.  In 2001’s White Lie, he played the military husband of a woman accused of helping smuggle cocaine into the US.

He was in individual episodes of The Practice, John Doe, Hack, The Guardian, NCIS, Malcolm in the Middle, The West Wing, Without a Trace, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and two of JAG.  In The West Wing, he played a friend of Josh who has been waiting a year to be confirmed in his appointment to a federal appeals court judgeship by the Republican congress.  In 2005, he was a main cast member as a cop in one season literally titled Steven Bochco show Blind Justice.  In two episodes of Prison Break, he played Quinn, and agent from “The Company” who ends up at the bottom of a well.  He was in four episodes of three season Brotherhood.

In two seasons of post-apocalyptic cult classic CBS show Jericho, Gaston portrayed Gray Anderson. Anderson is a businessman who controls the Jericho Salt Mines.  He defeats mayor Johnston Green to become mayor himself and helps lead the construction of a new power source, a wind turbine.  He participates in an Allied States of America conference (I have no clue what this is but the show sounds vaguely intriguing) but disagrees with their ideas and eventually turns the town back over to former mayor Green.

He was in episodes of ER, Numb3rs, and Saving Grace.  He was in an episode of Mad Men as Head of Accounts Burt Peterson who is fired by Lane Price so that Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove can take over.  He makes a scene while leaving, knocking items off desks and yelling.  He was in two episodes of Raising the Bar and in TV movie U.S. Attorney.  He had a quick appearance in the pilot episode of White Collar as a director for the US Marshals working at the prison Neal Caffrey escapes from.  He plays recurring character Roger Kastle in six episodes of Damages.  In two episodes of season eight of 24, he was General David Brucker.  Brucker disagrees with President Allison Taylor and believes she should turn over Omar Hassan to potentially save Ameircan lives.  Brucker concocts a plan to abduct Hassan without the President’s knowledge, but his plan is foiled by Jack Bauer and he is later arrested.

Gaston appeared in four episodes of short-lived AMC show Rubicon as Donald Bloom.  Bloom is an independent contractor who formerly worked for the CIA.  He is hired by Truxton Spangler to kill main character Will Travers, and to make it look like an accident.  However, the plan is botched and Will manages to shoot and kill Bloom before Bloom can inject him with an overdose of heroin.  Later in the same year, Gaston was rich white guy Ben Zeitlin in four episodes of one season Terriers.  Zeitlin is a corrupt attorney who is part of a conspiracy at the heart of the season, and is attempting to purchase some land through shady means.

In 2011, Gaston began a recurring role on The Mentalist as California Bureau of Investigation head Gale Bertram.  Mostly concerned with the political and media aspects of being director, Bertram has noticed the impressive record of Agent Teresa Lisbon and Patrick Jane, and has been hinted to possibly have connections to serial killer Redjohn.  Gaston is currently a regular cast member of CBS detective show Unforgettable.  Unforgettable focuses on Carrie Wells, a police officer with a rare condition that gives her amazing memory.  Gaston plays Detective Mike Costello, a detective in Wells’ unit.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Lenny Venito

28 Sep

Venito has made a career largely of playing an Italian stereotype, both in drama and in comedies.  At the beginning of his career, television appearances came infrequently.  In 1988, he appeared in an episode of The Equalizer, in 1992 in an episode of Here and Now, in 1995 in an episode of The Cosby Mysteries and in 1996 in an episode of New York Undercover.  He appeared in the TV movie Witness to the Mob about Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who was played by Nicholas Turturro.

He next appeared as a regular in extremely short-lived sitcom Living in Captivity on Fox in 1998.  The show was about the ins and outs of a gated community inCalifornia.  Venito starred as Carmine Santucci, an auto parts mogul.  He next appeared on a 2002 episode of short-lived Dennis Leary show The Job and in six episodes of NYPD Blue as Julian Pisano.  He appeared in a Third Watch, a Hack, and as two different characters in two early 2000s Law & Order episodes, one of them as a mobster in Everybody Loves Raimondo’s, an episode I think I’ve seen half a dozen times.  He started to work more regularly in the 2000s, showing up in a The Practice, and in two The Jurys in 2004, and in two episodes of Blind Justice in 2005, one as his NYPD Blue character.

In 2006, he started a nine episode run in Sopranos as James “Murmur” Zancone.  Murmur was a friend and sponsor of Christopher and helps kidnap screenwriter J.T. Dolan.  He’s perhaps best remembered for helping to stealHollywoodgift baskets, wrestling them away from actors Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall.  In 2006, he also appeared in three episodes of more successful Dennis Leary show Rescue Me and in the pilot of The Black Donnellys.  In 2007, he was in two episodes of Queens Supreme and co-starred in the nine episodes aired of Knights of Prosperity, an ABC sitcom in which the title friends were plotting to rob Mick Jagger (the original title was Let’s Rob Mick Jagger.  Venito portrayed Francis “Squatch” Squacieri, next to Donal Logue and Sofia Vergara.  He was also in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in the same year and in an episode of Flight of the Conchords as John, an incompetent mugger who later befriends Jemaine, both of whom were abandoned by their partners.

In 2008, Venito was in single episodes of Life on Mars and Ugly Betty.  In 2009 he reprised his Flight on the Conchords mugger role in another episode.  In 2010 he appeared in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and showed up in two episodes of Bored to Death as a mounted policeman who hires Jonathan to steal back some incriminating photos of him before the police raid an S&M club.  He most recently appeared in two episodes of short-lived but well-reviewed FX show Lights Out and in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as the not-otherwise-named one armed man.  He evades Larry several times during the episode, as no one else believes in his existence.