Season 2 marks a serious step down for The Soprano's. David and I were just talking about the reworking that Game of Thrones is going through in it's second season. The Soprano's managed to do something similar but has failed where GoT seems to be succeeding.
With a new season of a show to work with, writers have a whole new list of opportunities. They've got new story lines to work with. They've got new characters to introduce. They have a chance to expand the world that they spent the entire first season setting up. They fail on almost all of these in the second season of this series.
The story follows a logical progression. Tony is now running the show as far as the crime element is concerned. These sequences are some of the best of the season. James Gandolfini is incredibly watchable as the central anti hero of the series. In the second season we finally manage to see him take control of something he's been vying for his whole life. And he's a solid leader. Very rarely does he make a bad decision and a viewer can take pride in watching this man (even if he is a magnificent dirt bag much of the time) run his crew. One of the best episodes of the season has Tony travel to Italy to meet up with the homeland leaders of La Cosa Nostra. In a great curve ball, the acting organization leader is woman and a powerful one at that. Though the show is filled with strong female characters, the majority of them are strong in their homes and no where else. It was nice to see a woman truly wearing the pants even if it was only for an episode. Its actually funny how similar to Game of Thrones' second outing this season is. The brother of the deceased mob boss from the first season appears in the second season's premiere and causes problems for Tony the whole way through. Though there aren't as many men struggling to take the crown in The Soprano's as there are in GoT, there is still a great little war going on within this second season that makes for some great television.
The trouble though is that it really doesn't come to a head. Several episodes of the season veer off from Tony Soprano's operatic reign of his crew and instead focus on Tony's idiot nephew Christopher who spends his time this season doing heroin and trying to write a mob movie screenplay. The sequences end up going for funny but don't really pay off. Instead I just found myself wishing I was watching Tony keep things together. There are plenty of serious scenes involving Chris too but because he's such a jag wagon I just never cared.
The violence that does occur in the story arc is much more necessary this season than the last. Tony doesn't send gun men after trouble makers this season. Instead he finds himself trapped. The violence happens to those he truly cares about and carries a lot more weight and consequence.
Tony's mother ends up pretty out of the picture this season since she's stuck in the hospital for most of it. This is good. She's a terrific villain for Tony but I think the writers lost control of her in season 1 and I think it was the right idea to tone her down a tad. But out with the old and in with the new. Richie Aprile the new man trying for Tony's crown plays one villain, and Tony's sister Janice plays another. There are now villains in both sides of Tony's life and they definitely give Tony's mother a run for her antagonistic money. The trouble is both these new villains' are basically unwatchable. They're annoying. They're schemers. They're liars. The Soprano's initial success came from how grounded in reality the series was. Unfortunately this creates a problem for this season's arc. The two new villains are definitely a problem but because they aren't super genius' they really don't cause super serious problems for Tony. They really just boil down to being a pain in both my and Tony's ass. If you don't care about the villain you don't care about the conflict.
The season begins without any real interaction between Tony and Dr. Melfi. Luckily this is fixed quickly and they do see each other enough to keep things going across the season. They still end up being the best scenes in the show. The intelligence in the writing really comes out here and Tony's true self is able to be glimpsed if not fully seen.
The season wraps itself up pretty well. All the main story arcs are covered and the show could end there though it'd be in the running for one of the worst series endings in history. Luckily the show's got 4 more seasons to work with.
Season 2 left me almost totally unimpressed. The dialogue is still great. The acting is still killer. But the production value hasn't gone up and I find myself watching almost every sequence with violence through gritted teeth because it ends up looking terrible.
I think the show has plenty to work on for season 3.
- A stronger over arching plot with Tony as a central focus. If they build up new characters it'd be fine to bring them in but as of now Tony is the only really interesting person on the show as far as the mob is concerned.
- More scenes with Carmella Soprano. Edie Falco does an inhumanly great job of playing Tony's wife and I'm always psyched when she comes on screen.
- Less comedy more drama. Life is funny. Okay I get it. That doesn't mean this show needs to be. Mainly because all the humor is really simple and doesn't at all match up with the rest of the intelligence inherent in the show's writing. All the humor ends up doing is underselling characters and turning them into parodies.
- A better antagonist. They really need to create a scary villain. Someone who's threatening and not just annoying. They could also go the GoT's route and show the bad guy's home life so they seem like more of a character rather than just somebody who appears once an episode as a reminder that Tony Soprano has problems.
This show still has a lot of work to do to live up to the legend. I'll be back for season 3 and I hope that I'll have better news.