In real life, what the Mafia does is not exactly funny. But in the hands of Hollywood and its cultural cliques, violent crime can not only be funny but lovable. HBO's "The Sopranos" is Exhibit A. It's been such a sensation that it's created a kind of mobster chic.
I'm a sucker for the zillionth rerun of any "Godfather" movie. "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in." "It's not personal. It's strictly business." "Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer." The lines are endless. I've tried watching "The Sopranos" several times, and in my book, the series just doesn't compare to the movie. I confess that I just don't get the "Sopranos" phenomena, while also acknowledging that mine may very well be a minority viewpoint.
Television critics have swooned like a gaggle of teenage girls over pretty much every "Sopranos" season since it debuted in 1999, and this just concluded season has been no different. They treat series creator David Chase as a literary genius, a shakedown artist's Shakespeare. They have loved how mob boss Tony Soprano is somehow just another suburban dad with a shrink. They have thrived on watching how the other half lived, and how the other half viciously killed. They have rejoiced in the creativity of each "whacking."
The HBO website milks "The Sopranos" phenomenon with celebratory merchandise: the top-selling Sopranos "Bada Bing!" bowling shirt, the Sopranos bowling ball bag, and the Sopranos trading cards. You can buy the Sopranos line of cigars. You can acquire a T-shirt with charming messages like "Hell hath no fury like the family" and a favorite obscene line -- "what, no f--ing ziti?" The HBO store's sales language proclaims it's "the perfect tee to wear to your next family dinner."
This HBO phenomenon is almost over, and even TV critics have sensed that HBO's reign as the dominant envelope-pusher in television may be ending, too. Only eight episodes remain in the can for early next year. But now comes the real spread of the "Sopranos" virus. It's being syndicated on regular cable TV.