Monday, June 11, 2007

"Sopranos" ends in crescendo of ... nothing

By Mark Egan

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey (Reuters) - Whaddya gonna do? After building tension for six seasons over 8-1/2 years, "The Sopranos," one of America's most critically acclaimed television shows, ended on Sunday with nothing more than a black screen.

And there was no clear answer to the big question -- would mob boss Tony Soprano sleep with the fishes?

Instead the mobster, who suffers the same worries as the rest of us, even if he gets relief from the occasional murder, finished the show munching onion rings in a New Jersey diner surrounded by a smiling wife and two content kids.

Sure a guy looking like a hit man had entered the restroom behind Tony and might be expected to come back out and kill the entire family, but then the screen went black for about five seconds and that was that. Some fans were disappointed.

"David Chase (the show's creator and writer ) should have put some bite into it. He left us hanging," said Johnny Salami, 43, of Rutherford, New Jersey.

"Maybe if you're from Oklahoma or California you don't care, but if you're from New Jersey, you want some closure."

Salami was in Lodi, New Jersey, at the Satin Dolls go-go lounge -- which since 1999 has doubled as the show's notorious, mob-run strip joint, the Bada Bing. About 200 fans gathered there to watch the final episode.

The strippers wore G-strings with the legend "Bada Bing." And out of respect, they stopped dancing for the show.

"This show is just short of being a caricature of Northern New Jersey, but we all love it," said patron Eileen Schley, 36. "I don't know now what I'm going to do on Sunday nights."

The series from Time Warner cable channel HBO has been around since 1999 -- longer than the Bush administration -- and broke new ground for television: portraying a thoroughly evil hero who corrupts everyone he comes into contact with while appearing perfectly ordinary to his neighbors.

James Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano has been hailed as a tour de force, as has the acting of other cast members. Despite the evil, brutality and violence that have become hallmarks of the weekly show, much of the channel's audience has formed a bond of affection for the Sopranos.

The penultimate show had left Tony's pompadoured henchman, Silvio Dante, barely breathing and full of holes; his brother-in-law Bobby dead and Soprano huddled in a darkened bedroom, clutching a machine-gun -- like a frightened child holding a teddy bear.

Even his long-conflicted therapist has dumped him and he is in all-out war with his New York gang rival Phil Leotardo.

But in the end, it was Leotardo who got snuffed out -- shot while waving farewell to his baby grandchildren, and then his head run over by an SUV for emphasis.

But for many fans, it wasn't enough and they just couldn't get past that black screen ending.

"Of all the things that could have happened, the worst thing that could have happened is it just end it like that; just stopping dead," said Tripp Reynolds, who watched at his home in Montclair. "But maybe it was inevitable given all the plot lines that were going."

The show won almost uniform critical praise. The New Yorker likened Chase's writing and character development to Charles Dickens, John Updike and Philip Roth and has called the show "the richest achievement in the history of television."

The final episode was peppered with classic one-liners from Tony. When Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri turns down an offer from Soprano to run a crew, Tony says, "I'm a little miffled." He tells a shrink, "My mother was a borderline personality." And when he hears his own son is learning Arabic, he says, "Come on, shish kebab! What else do you need to know?"

And the comedy which has come hand in hand with the violence since the beginning was in evidence too.

"One time, at the Bing ... I saw the Virgin Mary," Gualtieri confides in Tony.

"Why didn't you say anything," Tony replies. "F--- strippers, we coulda had a shrine, sold holy water in gallon jugs, coulda made millions."

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