Mama Always Said You’d Be the Chosen One

It took five seasons and numerous emails with my thoughts on the show before my friend finally asked me an important question:

“Do you like ‘The Sopranos’? I can’t tell if you do.”

It wasn’t the easiest question to answer. Many of the more recent canonical TV shows, I can very quickly divide into love and hate, and, more importantly, I can easily dismiss any vying for the “greatest of all time” title. There is no way “The Wire” is the best show ever because its fifth and final season is genuinely bad television. For the same reason, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, which spends five seasons hitting it out of the park, one season stumbling, and one season in the borderline unwatchable category, can’t be the number one, though I would heartily assert it is better TV than both The Wire and The Sopranos, though everyone else in the world has been telling me otherwise for ten years.

“The Sopranos” doesn’t necessarily have a bad season, though the front half of Season 6 is certainly its worst. I had to think to come up with my favorite though, which I concluded was Season 4, the season about the past and how things have changed (I can hear those who know me chuckling).

When it came to individual episodes, it really depended on which characters were featured how I felt about them. Given the number of nominations I was aware Michael Imperioli earned over the years, I was floored at how dull and uninteresting Christopher was. Sure, he had some good one-liners and the occasional well-performed scene, but by and large, his storylines struck me as incredibly flat–one can only relapse into drug use so many times. It is worth noting, however, that “D-Girl” is hands-down my favorite episode of this show and is actually somewhat Christopher-centric. Most of the time though, I just wonder, “Where’s Sil? Where’s Bobby? Can’t we put Junior back in the fray?”

Another part of the problem is that, while there are a long list of genres I love, the relatively short list of genres I hate tend to be as follows: gangster, Westerns, stuff about criminals, mind trip—you know, all the genres that have gotten all the accolades over the past two decades. So, it was an uphill battle for this show from the beginning because I never have and never will find Mafia stories all that interesting.

At least The Sopranos had the family element going for it though. More importantly, Margaret Lyons beautifully summed up what it was about this show that helped me put up with the boring mobster stuff. Please read the whole piece, because it really did fundamentally change my appreciation of the show, but here is the one line that really sticks out:

 “The Sopranos is about the performance of self when we haven’t picked what we are.”

Millenials may think we can be anything, but there are some of us who still live in families like mine, where during Christmas time, I put forward a version of myself that doesn’t really exist. I smile and joke and make a mention of something that happened at Midnight Mass to ensure Grandma knows I went to church. I make it seem like that husband and family are just around the corner. I make it seem like I spend more time with my family than my friends, or heck, even my family and my blog. Around my friends, I put forward a version of me that isn’t exactly me either. At work, the same. As someone who got a Master’s Degree with a large emphasis on the performance of self, intellectually this is right up my alley, because we are always performing, and, a lot of the time, we are performing roles we don’t want to be in. We may not be mob bosses who have to stick to these roles or else there are life and death consequences, but the general concept should be familiar to everyone.

I think we can all relate to that idea of pretending to be someone we don’t want to be sometimes, which is why this show, and Season 4 in particular stuck out to me. In this season, several guys return from the clink after years removed from the real world. Some are ready to jump back in, but can’t be what the new order needs them to be. Others try so very hard to get out a la Michael Corleone, only to be pulled back in again. And, at the center of it is Tony, seeing it all go down, realizing that relationships, such as the one between himself and his favorite cousin, may change, but the people they have to be are never going to. He realizes, no matter what, he is stuck in what he is and there is no way it isn’t going to end poorly.

It was a show that made me think. It has me still thinking, honestly. Is it the greatest ever? That, I can pretty easily answer no, but I am also the person who is going to offer up The Dick Van Dyke and The Mary Tyler Moore shows as perfect pieces of television long before anything made in the 21st century.

I even told my friend I don’t prefer it to “The Good Wife”, which is, in my mind, the best show on television right now. In many ways they deal with the same identity politics, in that several characters are stuck in places they would rather not be and have to do what they can with them. Unlike The Sopranos, which had more than one “off” episode (I’m looking at you, Kevin Finnerty), “The Good Wife” has faltered arguably once with a strange story about Kalinda’s life before the firm. Otherwise though, this program, which produces 22 episodes a season mind you, compared to The Newsroom and their six, Game of Thrones and their 10, and the now-lofty 12-13 of most major cable shows, and manages to do so without much filler, with a plethora of compelling characters to choose from and a bench of bit players that rivals the UK basketball team.

So, as someone who waited 15 years to see what the hype was about, where do I stand on The Sopranos?

I can most certainly see how it shifted the paradigm for television drama and helped to popularize the anti-hero concept on TV (though, as Emily Nussbaum rightly points out, Carrie Bradshaw beat him to the punch on that one). I respect on an artistic level what it did, though I am still mildly baffled at how many references only media scholars and intense film nerds like myself would ever get are peppered throughout the show.

Again, I am deferring to Lyons on this one. It is a show I respect and revere, but is it a show I love? No. Me? I need characters I can invest in. They can be complicated and flawed, sure, but I have to fundamentally care about what happens to them. Save for Carmela, Bobby Baccalieri, Silvio, Paulie’s mom, and a handful of others, there were precious few characters I found myself genuinely emotionally reacting to when they were in peril. Once or twice the show gut-punched me, but mostly I admired it from a distance as a piece of art, not full enmeshed within it, as I tend to be with my all-time favorite shows. 

Much like the show, Tony Soprano was always an arms-length away for me. He could make me smile and laugh, but he never made me cry. When he got shot or had his life on the line, I wasn’t that compelled, though maybe it is because I knew they can’t kill off Tony. Most of all though, there was just way more to dislike about Tony than to like by the time the series ended. While I found him fascinating to scrutinize, if put to a decision, I would say, no, I don’t really care about him. And, for me, that is a problem.

I admire it as a show that made me think, but it isn’t a show that makes me feel nearly enough, which is what I am looking for when it comes to searching for the greatest TV show of all time. I am certainly happy I watched, but I’ll still tell you it is no “Buffy”, it is no “The Good Wife”, and it is not “The West Wing.” It certainly isn’t half-bad though.

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There Goes Miss Jordan

I wish I had a better explanation for why I so vehemently hate some fictional women. I think about my peers telling me to support all women, don’t sabotage other women, perhaps don’t Tweet incessantly about how awful this, albeit fictional, person is.

But when the fictional Maggie Jordan of “The Newsroom” exited my life a couple of weeks ago when the show aired its series finale, I let out a massive sigh of relief. Because, to be frank, the fervor with which I hated her was positively exhausting. Every week, she found new ways to appall me, starting with the very first episode.

After watching the finale, I thought I would return to the pilot to see if maybe I was wrong and blinded by my Maggie anger and that, perhaps, she had grown more than I realized. Or that I was too quick to judge.

Nope.

When you begin “The Newsroom”, you are introduced to Margaret “Maggie” Jordan when she explains to her boyfriend that 1. She is disappointed he isn’t comfortable meeting her parents after dating for four months and 2. No, she will not be abandoning the “News Night” staff even though her now-boss does not even know her name let alone that she is on the staff. She is doing this in the office. You know why? Because her boyfriend, who is likely ten years older than her, used to be her boss and the two of them are participating in a grossly inappropriate workplace relationship, so they have conversations like this in front of fellow employees at the workplace all the time.

Her lone positive character trait is that she is loyal to the show, and her not defecting earns her an immediate promotion to Associate Producer. Later in the episode, she is given a task to research an obscure government organization. She finds out some important and useful information, getting a guest in the process, but the entire time she is presented as a girl on the verge of competence, who seemingly lucked into the information rather than someone who actually got a degree in something like journalism, which would fully prepare her for such a task.

So, Maggie and I didn’t get along particularly well off the bat. In my first job, I never asked my boss questions unless absolutely necessary because I knew I would get a ripped a new one if I didn’t figure it out on my own, and, while there were a couple of very cute boys in the office I would’ve loved to go crying to, I went to other experienced females in the office in an attempt to sharpen my skills.

In the second episode, she is on her third day at the job as an Associate Producer when her boss, Senior Producer Jim Harper, asks to do a mock pre-interview in preparation for a segment. Rather than being grateful a seasoned vet is going to walk her through the process, she literally screams at her for believing she is incompetent and needs babysitting. But guess what? She does.

She blows the pre-interview on an unimaginably bad level. It results in an abysmal show that embarrassed all those involved with it. Inexplicably, Jim covers for the girl who yelled at him, was insubordinate and exhibited what was only the first in a seemingly endless list of unprofessional behavior. But Jim has a little crush on poor, broken Maggie and protects her. When Maggie, who has an anxiety disorder and forgets her medicine at work, she doesn’t talk herself out of the panic attack she is having, Jim does.

In Season Two, we learn via flash forward that Maggie went through some shit on a trip to Africa. As a result, she starts showing up to work dressed like a waitress in a dive bar. This was new, edgy single Maggie, a girl who handled her own life, but yet she was sleeping around with whoever she could, continuing to mouth off to her superiors, and supposedly still remained the biggest liability on the staff.

I’ve gone through my lost and unsure phase in my twenties, don’t get me wrong. Hell, I’m probably going through one right now, to be frank. But the obviousness of her being unable to hold it together once again saddened me. Is this really the way young women in the work force come across? Is it really that obvious when we’re struggling? Is it really that necessary that we have at least two dudes there to save us whenever we are in a bind?

Fellow network employee Sloane Sabbath, who is much higher up the ladder than Maggie in every respect possible, tries to help her out. It is the kind of mentorship most of us would kill for, but Maggie hardly takes advantage of it at all. She wallows, she flails, she continues to display an egregiously unprofessional at work, and when it comes to her personal relationships, she could genuinely not be more selfish.

Yet, in Season 3, Maggie is supposed to be redeemed. The result of all that suffering and struggle brought on by no one but herself is that she gets handed an adorable Cornell Law professor to date. Because she shows an ability to read and speak words she wrote herself at the same time while being filmed, she saves the day at work. She allegedly shows her chops again by scooping a big interview with someone from the EPA, but it ends up being a wholly depressing segment, not to mention illustrates that Maggie is somehow 26 years old and has still not learned how to effectively highlight things.

Then, in the final two episodes, she finally gets together with the adorable Jim, who spent two seasons being delightful, then inexplicably turned into a jerk in the final season. They get together, then three days later Maggie learns Jim recommended her for a field producing job in DC, despite the fact the show has clearly established she is the least useful producer on the show on numerous occasions (Poor Gary Cooper can’t ever catch a break, can he?)

Then, conflict of conflicts, Jim gets promoted to Executive Producer of “News Night” and, in a remarkable display of unprofessionalism himself, runs to Maggie to offer her his old job as Senior Producer.

And Aaron Sorkin wants me to believe that Maggie has grown and learned because she is going to interview for that field producer job because it is what she wants. Go Maggie! Girl Power! Way to choose one of the two jobs you would rather have that is being offered solely because a dude wants to sleep with you. That’s feminism, ladies and gentlemen. I’m not gonna bring you down, I am not going to hate on other women.

Cause it is awesome that one of the three main female characters in this show essentially learned nothing in three years when it came to her career, but will apparently have a string of dudes who are entirely too good for her vying for her attention.

 In episode one, Maggie chooses a job out of loyalty and in the final episode, Maggie chooses the job she wants for her own reasons. So, is the moral of the story that Maggie learned to be selfish? Cause she seemed to have that character trait down pretty pat long before Season 3 got started. Is the moral of the story that all of her selfish behavior when it comes to Jim is that she gets him now that he is damaged goods?

I want to know, as a female, what I am supposed to get from Maggie Jordan. If I am supposed to support all women, fictional and otherwise, I want to know why it needs to include a character who sets back chicks who spend their 20s never lighting their pilot light to save money on gas, never being late for work, never not knowing the answer in front of your boss, and never having to wonder if you got that compliment or promotion for any other reason than the quality of your work. Because I don’t see that chick on television very often. We haven’t had a Veronica Mars for me to cheer for in a while, especially on so-called prestige television.

I thankfully have Alicia Florrick and Diane Lockhart on “The Good Wife.” I have Keri Russell kicking ass on “The Americans.” But when it comes to girls in their 20s and early 30s, I have a pretty girl with dragons, I have a delusional, self-involved writer, and a straight up crazy homeland security expert.

At least I don’t have to deal with Maggie Jordan anymore though. She is gone, off living some life a dude made for her. Way to go, now make your exit.