‘The Sopranos’ Turns 20: Celebrating a Classic

20 years ago the pilot of The Sopranos aired: the beginning of a total classic and still my all time favorite tv show. It was followed by many greats, such as The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Westworld. What was that first episode about that started it all? Looking back at the beginning of a golden era of television.

Episode 1: Pilot

Directed by: David Chase

Written by: David Chase

Regular Cast
James Gandolfini … Tony Soprano
Lorraine Bracco … Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Edie Falco … Carmela soprano
Michael Imperioli … Christopher Moltisanti
Dominic Chianese … Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano
Vincent Pastore … Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero
Steven Van Zandt … Silvio Dante
Tony Sirico … Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri
Robert Iler … Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano
Jamie-Lynn Sigler … Meadow Soprano
Nancy Marchand … Livia Soprano

This is it. The first installment of a milestone in television history. Tony Soprano, family man and captain for the New Jersey Mafia, sits in the waiting room for his first therapy session with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. The session is a result of an anxiety-attack Tony had at his son’s A.J.’s birthday party.

Off course because of being a made man and all, it is only natural that Tony is at first reluctant to talk to Dr. Melfi. Tony feels that the whole world is seeing a shrink and he wonders what happened to the strong, silent type, like Gary Cooper. “He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what had to be done”, Tony tells the slightly intrigued Dr. Melfi.

After a while Tony starts to talk. About a family of ducks no less. These ducks landed in Tony’s swimming pool a couple of months earlier and seem to be influencing his moods. Then, Tony starts to talk about his own family. His uncle Junior, also a Jersey Mob captain who in Tony’s words adds to his general stress level. His nephew Christopher, a kid who just bought a 60.000 dollar Lexus and who’s “learning the business”. His wife Carmela, jealous at Tony’s goomars (girlfriends) and having problems getting along with their daughter Meadow.

At work Tony also faces problems. His uncle Junior is planning to whack Little Pussy Malanga (often confused with Tony’s associate Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero). The hit is to take place in a restaurant owned by Tony’s old neighborhood buddy Artie Bucco. Tony wants the hit to take place somewhere else or Artie will lose business. So he sends his associate Silvio Dante to go and blow the place up. And Artie can collect the insurance money. In the meantime there are problems in Tony’s waste management business. The Czechoslovakian Emil Kolar is moving in on one of Tony’s garbage stops so he has to be dealt with. The ambitious Christopher is more than willing to whack Emil in the hope that Tony can open up the books, and Christopher can finally become a made guy.

Could these problems be the reasons for Tony’s attacks or is there more to it than just stress? What for example has been the role of Tony’s borderline mother Livia? This will prove a challenge for Dr. Melfi to find out if she and Tony decide to continue the treatment. One resolution is made already however. When Tony’s ducks fly away his depression kicks in and he is put on Prozac. He also dreams that one of the ducks takes off with his penis which indicates his fear for losing his family (and the beginning of a period of impotence).

This introduction in the Soprano world is absolutely terrific. We are thrown into this entrancing, twisted, funny, mysterious and often violent world where ‘good guys’ are virtually non-existent. Even most woman in the series are often portrait as materialistic and hypocrite. There are many things to phrase this first pilot episode for, the magnificent cast, the casual and sometimes off-putting violence, the humor, the brilliant dialogues, the inspired soundtrack, the beautiful realism of Tony’s therapy sessions, the fantastic film references and the mystery by which it totally engages it’s audience. This first episode creates a thousand promises to come.



Gangster movie references in episode 1

Reference to The Godfather

(Dialogue)

CHRISTOPHER: Louis Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
BIG PUSSY: Luca! Luca Brasi
CHRISTOPHER: Whatever…
BIG PUSSY: There’s differences Christopher. From the Luca Brasi situation and this.

Reference to The Godfather Trilogy and GoodFellas

(Dialogue)

FATHER PHIL: Darn, these laser discs are incredible!
CARMELA: Tony watches Godfather II all the time. He says the camerawork looks just as good as in the movie theatre.
FATHER PHIL: Gordon Willis. Tony prefers II not I?
CARMELA: Yeah, he likes the part where Vito goes back to Sicily. With III he was like ‘What happened’?
FATHER PHIL: Where does Tony rank GoodFellas?
(Someone knocks on door)

Reference to GoodFellas

(Dialogue)

CHRISTPHER: You know my cousin Gregory’s girlfriend is what they call a development girl out in Hollywood, right? She said I could sell my life story. Make fucking millions. I didn’t do that. I stuck it out with you.
TONY(Grabs him): I’ll fucking kill you. What are you gonna do go Henry Hill* on me now?

* Henry Hill is a famous wiseguy who joined the Witness Protection Programme and gave up many of his former associates. His life story is told in the novel Wiseguy by Nicolas Pileggi on which the movie GoodFellas is based.

Dialogues in episode 1

TONY: A couple month before, these two ducks landed in my pool. It was amazing. They’re from Canada or some place and it was mating season. They had some ducklings.

LIVIA: And don’t start with the nursing home business again.
TONY: It’s not a nursing home! How many times have I got to say this. It’s a retirement community!

TONY: Hey all I’m saying is no marriage is perfect.
CARMELA: Well having that goomar on the side helps.
TONY: I told you I’m not seeing her anymore. How do you think I feel with having that priest around all the time?
CARMELA: Don’t even go there alright. Father is a spiritual mentor. He’s making me a better Catholic!
TONY: Yeah well we all got different needs.
CARMELA: What’s different between you and me is you’re going to hell when you die!

HESH: So ehh…I hear that junior wants to whack Pussy Bompensiero?
TONY: Pussy Malanga.
HESH: Oh Little Pussy.
TONY: Yeah Little Pussy. What? You think he’s gonna fuck with Big Pussy? My Pussy?

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Leaving Neverland Of; De spin in het web

Wees altijd terughoudend met aannemen wat de media zegt. De documentaire Leaving Neverland, over het vermeende kindermisbruik van Michael Jackson, werd al snel afgeserveerd als eenzijdige laster. De twee nieuwe beschuldigers zouden als kind juist hebben gezegd dat Jackson onschuldig was. Dus hoe kunnen we ze nu geloven? Ze zouden gewoon op geld uit zijn van de familie Jackson. De twee mannen uit de documentaire – Wade Robson en James Safechuck – hebben inderdaad een claim ingediend tegen de erven Jackson. Maar die claims werden al snel afgeschoten door de rechtbank omdat de zaak verjaard is. Dus de kans dat de twee mannen ooit geld gaan zien is nihil. Dus waarom dit alsnog aangaan na 30 jaar stilte?

Wie de moeite neemt de vier uur durende documentaire kritisch te bekijken, krijgt al heel snel een ander beeld van Michael Jackson. De twee slachtoffers en hun familieleden komen met vrijwel exact hetzelfde verhaal. Hoe hun hele familie werd verleidt door Jackson, hoe de verblinde ouders vervolgens toestonden dat hun kinderen bij de popster op de kamer mochten slapen, hoe het misbruik begon als onderdeel van een liefdevolle vriendschap, en hoe Jackson de twee manipuleerde om de liefdevolle seks tussen hen beide geheim te houden (“als iemand hier ooit achter komt, gaan we levenslang de gevangenis in”).

Pas toen beide kinderen disfunctionele volwassenen waren geworden, begonnen ze het misbruik heel langzaam te zien voor wat het was. Het delen van hun verhaal is een onderdeel van hun therapie. Waarom heeft de documentairemaker geen wederhoor gezocht bij de familie? Dat zien we in de rechtszaken tegen Jackson in 1993 en 2004 waarin de aanklagers worden verpletterd door het juridische en pr-arsenaal van de Jacksons. Met zijn beschulders in 1993 heeft Jackson buiten de rechtszaal geschikt, terwijl Johnnie Cochran zijn advocaat was; de man die met twijfelzaaien zelfs O.J. Simpson heeft vrij gekregen.

Een oordeel vellen op basis van alleen twee verklaringen is wellicht niet correct. Daarom beperk ik me tot mijn mening: Jackson was een kindermisbruiker (ik gebruik niet de term pedofiel, omdat deze geaardheid niet samen hoeft te gaan met misbruik). De vaste verdediging van Jackson, dat hij een slachtoffer was van op geld beluste ouders en te naïef om te beseffen dat het niet handig is om met kinderen op een kamer te slapen, krijgt iets heel akeligs. Ik dacht dat hij een zieke man was, maar wel een onschuldige. Nu blijkt hij een heel naar en extreem manipulatief mens te zijn. Zelfs in het zeer onwaarschijnlijke scenario dat het seksuele misbruik niet waar is, heeft hij kinderen emotioneel misbruikt. Door ze te vertellen dat ze beroemd gaan worden, zich als hun beste vriend voor te doen, ze financieel en emotioneel afhankelijk te maken, en geen enkele voorzichtigheid te betrachten. En ze vervolgens weer te laten vallen voor jongere kinderen.

Waar de film Bohemian Rhapsody juist heeft geleid tot een hernieuwde liefde voor een van mijn eerste pophelden Freddie Mercury, heeft Leaving Neverland het tegenovergestelde effect bewerkstelligd. Ik heb helemaal geen zin meer om naar de muziek van Jackson te luisteren. Mijn liefde voor de King of Pop is helemaal voorbij.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3: Final Goodbyes

After the terrific second season, I thought it was over for the chainsaw wielding Ash and his compadres. But my favorite show of the last couple of years returned for one final round of evil ass kicking. April this year, Starz announced it was now cancelled due to a drop in viewers. Bruce Campbell had this to tweet about it:

So now it’s over for real. But with a legacy this good – three movies (not counting the inferior remake) and three TV-seasons, who’s complaining?

Season 3 starts off with a brilliant commercial in which Ash, retired as a demon-killer, now slashes prices instead of zombies in his new hardware store. Off course, it doesn’t take long for evil to return. And if that isn’t enough, he finds out he is a dad. Will his daughter Brandy turn out to be an evil asskicker, just like her daddy ‘Ashy Slashy’?

The usual ingredients are all here: slapstick humor, buckets of gore and dazzling camera moves. A definite highlight is the battle in a sperm bank (in episode 2), where Ash has been donating his superior seed for quite a while. It is in over-the-top scenes like this when the formula of laugh out loud humor and gory horror shocks is at its most effective.

Like in the previous season, Ash gets excellent support from Pablo and Kelly (Ray Santiago & Dana DeLorenzo) who really managed to become essential characters in the revived Evil Dead Universe. Lucy Lawless makes a strong main villain as Ruby, one of the original Dark Ones who wrote the Necronomicon and thus started all this deadite trouble. We meet the other Dark Ones as well this season for the first time! And does Ash get to fight that big ass monster that’s on the awesome cover above? Find out for yourself. This show is not to be missed.

I wish Bruce Campbell a happy retirement. Ash – a guy with a chainsaw as hand – has been the role of his lifetime. As King of the B-actors, he couldn’t get a more suitable legacy. This is the stuff of true legends.


Ash can finally lock away his chainsaw and boomstick.

5 Unforgettable Twin Peaks 2017 Moments

The famous film critic J. Kleyngeld named Twin Peaksone of the 5 must see TV-shows before you die’. One of its many feats is predicting its return after 25 years. This highly anticipated moment happened last year (actually 26 years later, but let’s not nitpick). I finally saw the show on DVD and I’m very impressed. It captures the strange atmosphere of the original, while simultaneously creating something uniquely new.

The show was produced by Showtime who gave creators David Lynch and Mark Frost complete freedom, or so it seems. A wise decision. In 1991, we left the beloved main character Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) behind in Twin Peaks after learning he was possessed by demon Bob. So what comes next? Twin Peaks was never about the plot, but about the unsettling and darkly humorous experience. But the main driver of the story is this: there are now two Coopers. Bad Coop and Good Coop. Only one gets to live…

What were the defining moments of the new show for me? Here are five that I thought were brilliant:

1. Departing the Black Lodge (Episode 3)

After spending 25, or 26 years in the Black Lodge – where time has no meaning anyway – Good Coop can leave using no normals means of travel. It is hard to describe everything he goes through, but the highlight is his arrival on a cosmic tin box where a mysterious woman tells him: “When you get there, you will already be there.” This weirdness was too much for Loesje, so I watched the rest of the 18 one hour episodes by myself.

2. GOD (episode 6)
One of the most hard-hitting scenes I ever saw on television; the shocking death of a boy who is brutally hit by the car of typical Lynch villain Richard Horne. Witness is Harry Dean Stanton who sees the boy’s soul ascent to the heavens after which he exclaims: “God”. Then he comforts the devastated mother. Blessed is he.

Reminds me, Stanton recently departed himself, like quite a few other actors from the original Twin Peaks crew: Catherine E. Coulson (Margaret Lanterman aka The Log Lady), Miguel Ferrer (FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield) and Frank Silva (Bob). And off course David Bowie, whose character Phillip Jeffries makes a return as water boiler of some sort. Let’s hope Lynch and MacLachlan live for at least another 120 years, so there can be a few more sequels.

3. Weirdness Galore (Episode 8)

There are probably uncountable modes of consciousness and Lynch captures many of them in the episode Gotta Light? which has to be the most unconventional episode ever produced for mainstream television. It is without a doubt my favorite episode of the season, and even one of the greatest thing Lynch ever did. There is incredible camerawork in this episode, like the long floating shot over the ocean. Then there is the dreamlike atmosphere, the eerie sound design by Lynch himself, and plenty of deep dark mystery to uncover for the fans. Outstanding.

4. Gun Control (Episode 16)

Not sure if this is satire on America’s gun control issues, but it surely seems that way. Even Eastern European accountants carry around the most advanced semi-automatic weapons in the USA. This leads to this hilarious suburban shootout in which Tim Roth’s and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s assassins both get blown to pulp. “People are under a lot of stress, Bradley”, comments Mitchum brother Rodney. One of the funniest and most outrageous scenes of violence in recent memory.

5. Coop’s Back! (Episode 16)

It is well known that Lynch can hook you in while letting essentially nothing happen for long time spans. He takes this to the next level here by leaving his main character practically a vegetable till episode 16! When our favorite doughnut eating detective finally returns, we know it’s been worth the wait instantly. Bravo!