5 Life Lessons To Take Away From “The Sopranos”

We’re grieving in our household because we’ve just completed the final series of The Sopranos.

Cover of "The Sopranos" boxset available at www.amazon.com.au
The Sopranos boxset available at Amazon.

But before any hardcore Sopranos fans jump in with an “I told you so” assumption that our grief is linked to THAT final episode – trust me, it’s not. The old man loved the ending, and while I’ll admit that it finished a little too abruptly for my liking – because I’m one of those sad fucks that likes a happy or at least a conclusive ending and I was desperate to see T say sorry to Carm, JUST ONCE – even I was good with it.

No, we’re grieving because the series was just SO BLOODY GOOD!

Admittedly, when the old man first suggested it, I poo pooed it as not my kind of television – because, frankly, there are enough murders of women in real life and the Mafia is hardly known for its work on human rights or equality. But you know what marriage is like, with its galling expectation to fucking compromise all of the time. So I agreed.

And when it comes to violence, let me confirm that The Sopranos doesn’t disappoint. The drama is horrifically violent in parts – in my opinion, often gratuitously so – which is why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For example, I can honestly say that the realism of Dr Melfi’s rape is one of the most harrowingly brutal scenes I’ve ever watched.

BUT…and it’s a mega BUT… there is just so much to learn from the series about the human condition. It was just so ahead of its time. But before I go into detail about what I took from it, here’s a quick synopsis for those of you yet to watch it:

In a nutshell, the story is about the life (work and family) of Tony Soprano, a sociopath, and the boss of a Mafia family in New Jersey. When he starts to have panic attacks – due in part to PTSD (caused by the toxicity of his own family), and in part (we suspect), to some level of social conscience about his work – we watch how he continues to justify the shocking decisions he has to make in the name of male pride, his family, (and HIS FAMILY) through social change and the ageing process.

So, what do the shocking truths of Tony’s life teach us about our own:

  1. To start with, the time period in which the series is set makes you realise just how far we’ve come in terms of political correctness. Homosexuality is demonised by the Mafia, as is the idea of not being a “real” man and even putting family ahead of “THE FAMILY”. Then there is the vigorous disapproval of seeking help for mental health issues, and the way that women are abused and subjugated. If ever there was a story that highlights toxic masculinity, this is it.
  2. We are also given an insight into PTSD caused by toxic parenting and how the cycle of abuse may continue. This comes to light during the therapy sessions between Tony and Dr Melfi and then evidenced in the relationship between Tony and his son, AJ.
  3. As we watch Tony’s struggles to evolve and raise his kids in this new, modern world – one in which their views are respected – we find ourselves identifying with his plight as the parent of teenagers. Many times, I found myself identifying with his frustration with AJ (his entitled son), and Meadow, his daughter, who dare to argue with their father about what they want to do with their lives, in spite of their parents’ expectations and power.
  4. Watching Tony’s evolution from husband and serial adulterer into a middle-aged man with guilt issues, is at times tragic, funny, deeply moving, and always mesmerising. The old-fashioned power and behaviours of the patriarchy are evident throughout, but the wind is starting to blow in the other direction and there are signs of their demolition as the female characters become more empowered.
  5. It is a lesson about relationships. In spite of the fact that Tony can’t keep it in his trousers, you know that he still loves Carmela deeply. However, trust is one of the main themes of the series. We know that successful relationships are built on trust, whereas groups such as the Mafia build them on loyalty. Relationships become vulnerable as people grow, and those that rely on nothing greater than lip-service don’t tend to last. Tony works hard on relationships that are meaningful to him – i.e. his blood family’s – but he remains deeply untrusting with outsiders, leaving him isolated, in spite of his seeming position of power.

These lessons, and so many more, is why The Sopranos is such addictive viewing. James Gandolfini’s portrait of Tony Soprano is enthralling to watch. He was highly acclaimed for the interpretation of this chilling, yet charismatic character, which makes the tragedy that his own life was cut so short, somehow all the more poignant. I miss that smile, already.

In Australia, you can watch The Sopranos on Foxtel or buy the boxset from www.amazon.com.au

5 Brilliant TV Series For The Discerning Middle-Aged Couple

jeshoots-com-606648-unsplashThe old man and I watch a lot of detective series together. It’s the only genre that hits the sweet spot for both of us. For him, there are car chases, guns, and psychopaths  – although, sadly no dragons – and for me, there is typically a decent representation of female characters – albeit, few of them survive to the end. 

I’m not great at suspending belief for the sake of entertainment or indeed following the plot of any storyline with more than a handful of characters, so while I enjoyed Game of Thrones, my decaying brain found the magnitude of the cast and locations very confusing.

Unlike Unforgiven, which is another outstanding British series and almost on a par with the quality of Line Of Duty and Luther – although, I’m not sure that anything can come really close to Idris chasing baddies through the streets of London – which offers some gruesomely believable plotlines, a mesmerizing cast, and seriously pretty, chocolate box locations.

In fact, I only found one very minor flaw with the series. Because, is it just me, or is anyone else seriously amazed by the way that characters ‘called in to help with police inquiries,’ can remember EXACTLY where they were and what they were doing between the hours of 9pm and 12pm on February 3, sixteen years ago?

I mean…I struggle to remember what I was doing last night, and when friends reminisce about some great night we spent together three years ago, I can’t remember a damn thing about it.

Of course, I suppose that if I was a killer, I might remember burying the body of some poor woman in the middle of roadworks on the North Circular. But if not, I’m a little sceptical about being able to remember who was a guest at my party on New Year’s Eve, 2009. On the rare occasions that I feel nostalgic and drag out the family photo albums, sometimes I struggle to remember when the photos were taken, their location, or even which child I’m looking at!

Anyway, for those of you mid-lifers that are struggling to find a tv series that keeps you together and awake beyond 8pm,  Unforgiven is one of the best series we’ve watched over the past few months, and I’ve added a few other suggestions below:

Band Of Brothers – Understandably, there was only one woman in the entire series, (who is taken out by a bomb), but WOW! this is a truly amazing series, on a par with the standard of Saving Private Ryan. Starring a young Damian Lewis, this series will make you seriously think about the true meaning of ‘dark times.’

Unforgiven – Great cast, gritty storylines, and typically in-your-face realism which is what I love about good British detective series. You won’t find any perfectly-manicured cops on this show – they’re all damaged and saddled with personal baggage – but I love the way the characters’ personal relationships are woven into the storylines.

Jack Irish – We’re late to the party on this one, but what’s not to love about the self-deprecating wit and charisma of Guy Pearce? Great twists and turns in this awesome Aussie series.

Killing Eve – I’m a tad reluctant to add this to my list, but I can’t deny that this series was highly entertaining with some strong female characters that keep you on your toes all the way through. Personally, it got a wee bit silly for me towards the end, but that might be my issue with artistic license.

Better Call Saul – I haven’t finished this series yet, but the old man swears by it.

What To Watch Next? The Viewing Dilemma Faced By Every Middle-Aged Couple

bear-3145874_1920As the final episode of series 3 of The Wire reached its conclusion last night (and if I’m honest, we were no clearer about what the fuck happened during its twelve episodes), the old man and I reached another crisis of epic proportions in our marriage. What to watch next? Because what to watch on tv when you’re middle-aged, intolerant and with almost twenty-five years of marriage under your belt, is an ongoing dilemma.

 

Our parents had it so much easier back in the day. With the choice of Crossroads or Corrie in the UK, and (I imagine) Skippy or The Young Doctors here in Australia, they can’t have experienced the United Nations-style negotiations that we have to go through each time a series ends. Because, somehow, with a gazillion tv shows at our disposal, we still struggle to agree on one.

 

Perhaps, the problem is linked to gender, that is if you accept the premise that our differences are inherently linked to our sexuality, which I don’t. Because, (and without wishing to paint the old man as the Neanderthal male stereotype of Generation X that he is), he does like guns, cars and testosterone-fuelled panting from male protagonists running from creatures, villains, and epidemics, whereas I prefer something more real, more cerebral…and the rare sighting of a penis is a bonus. 

 

Have you noticed that men on tv and in movies are always running? Must be that action gene that we were diddled out of. Or perhaps they never read The Hare and the Tortoise?

 

Anyway…that means that there are few series we can watch together where one of us isn’t checking our phone every few minutes or yawning. Police series seem to be the only genre where there is some vague correlation in our tastes, although there is only so much Wallander or Hinterland I can watch before suicide becomes a more interesting alternative. 

 

We have a list now – yes, the old man has become that fucking anal about this ‘we might as well kill ourselves stage of our lives’ (his words) if they ever stop making Peaky Blinders, Homeland or Billions.  And The Wire sat on our list for a while, mainly because it is set in the eighties and nineties and I don’t like anything old, but also, as the only female protagonist is a lesbian, that dashed all my hopes of seeing a penis. Fortunately, however, one of the lead character’s, Jimmy McNulty, is a bit of a player – because he’s a panting, running MAN – so there is some bare-bum action. Ladies – sadly, we have to take what we can get.

 

Anyway, we couldn’t ignore the reviews of the series, especially as the old man is a real IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes man, and he refuses to turn the tv on for anything less than an 8.5. So, if you’re looking for a polished, gritty police drama that focuses on the drug world in Baltimore, look no further. You will, however, require an interpreter to follow the slang of the young black Americans around which the stories revolve, although we have achieved a level of fluency as we head into series 4 and ight and ya feel me have become commonly-used words/phrases in our household; sadly, to the confusion of the dog, whose sparse vocabulary of twenty words was reached with the word dickhead.

 

So, as you can imagine, neither of us said anything at the closing music last night, but we were both thinking it. What the fuck do we watch now?

 

Any suggestions that meet the above criteria will be gratefully received. There will be bonus points for any penis sightings.

 

 

Netflix, Vikings and Middle-Aged Memory Loss

As I’m sure most of you would agree, the invasion of Netflix into our lives has been a godsend to our age group; up there with Botox, Tena pads and Viagra for some of us, I would imagine. screen-310714_1280

 

Unfortunately, however, the old man and I have a few issues to resolve around our nightly sessions of back-to-back viewing of episodes of our favourite series – which can sometimes comprise of months and months of entertainment…thank fucking Christ!

 

I’ll give you an example:

 

We began to watch Vikings a few months back. His choice not mine, even though the wonderful Mumabulous had droned on and on about the series for what seemed like eons, due to its infusion of Norse history and intimate study of the Viking culture, I believe… so I was intrigued.

 

Imagine my surprise when the visual feast of the series wasn’t all gratuitous blood and guts and men being …well, men, and it contained some genuine storylines, that are actually based on history. The series is headed by two lead characters, the brothers Ragnar Lothbrok and Rollo. Interestingly Ragnar, played by Australian actor, Travis Fimmel, used to be a Calvin Klein model before he took up his shield and learned how to plait his hair and I think that the depth of that experience truly aided him to nail the authenticity of his character, who, part crazed butcher and part sensitive new man with his children’s safety as his priority, is most women’s dream man.

 

But inevitably it can be kind of heavy to watch, night after night, particularly for us sensitive types, and in spite of the rather distracting amount of very toned male flesh on display – obviously the Vikings were the forerunners of the six pack. So after surviving the edge-of-your-seat mass brutality of the first two series, the old man and I decided we needed a breather from the mass destruction of England and decided to revert back to another series last night, that we had watched over Christmas – The Killing, an American cop series that is set in Seattle.

 

We’d had a hiatus of about a month and needless to say, neither of us could remember a fucking thing that happened at the end of the last series.

 

The conversation went something like this:

 

‘Did they find the body of the boy in the boot?’

 

‘No, he was at his father’s grave stone.’

 

‘When did his father die?’

 

‘He was hung, remember? The whole of the last series was about them trying to prevent his hanging.’

 

‘Oh…was this the one where she slept with the killer?’

 

‘Yes, that’s why she’s so consumed with guilt.’

 

‘How did he kill them again? Was that the Blood Eagle scene.’

 

‘No, that was in Vikings.’

 

If torture scenes where a sexy, bloody man cuts along the flesh of a man’s spine, pulls apart his rib cage, pulls out his lungs and places one on each of his victims shoulders, put you off your dinner, Vikings may not be your cup of tea. I close my eyes during those scenes because gore apart, the series can be magnetising light entertainment in which both men and women are convincing warriors, with the women equally as powerful and there’s barely a gratuitous breast or Brazilian in sight. So, more progressive than GOT, although not as thought-provoking.

 

I have seen a penis, although not Ragnar’s, unfortunately.

 

There’s no equivalent eye candy in The Killing, but if like me, you get a thrill out of watching shows that are set in rainy, cold locations while you check your tan lines, it is also worth a watch.

 

How’s your memory faring? Thankfully, I’ve got the heat to blame at the moment as we melt in a heatwave, but I’m also considering making the switch to red wine for all its well-documented health advantages that I hope include improvement of one’s ability to remember where you car is parked.

 

My Top 3 TV Series For The Holidays

With the holidays looming tantalisingly closer, what better way for life’s real achievers (such as myself) to waste our hard-earned free time than by watching back-to-back series on Netflix?

 

Personally, I find a lot of the answers to life’s problems from tv.

 

Mad-men-title-cardAt the moment, my top 3 series of choice are Mad Men, Friday Night Lights and Homeland; an eclectic mix of genres, I admit, but one that stimulates the different needs of the complexities within my brain.

 

Many people believe that watching tv inanely, night after night, constitutes a waste of precious ‘living’ time, but not me. What else do you do in middle age on a week night? And there is so much to be learnt. Much of my middle-aged education and the intellectual inspiration for this blog comes from the education to be had from the fine art of couch potato-ing.

 

So here are my 3 recommendations:

 

250px-Friday_Night_Lights_title_cardI admit that I came late to the party of Mad Men, and in particular to the attributes of its protagonist, resident love rat, Don Draper *swoon*, whom no matter what he does, I find myself strangely drawn to, and desperate to mend. What can I say? I’m a sucker for ‘damaged goods’. With its quirky, smoke-filled, sixties interiors, (worryingly reminiscent of my own childhood home), the oblivion of its characters to the dangers of drinking and smoking all day long, the stunning fashion, subtle humor and its portrayal of the slow rise of women to the top of the corporate ladder – you have to mix yourself a Martini and give this series a go.

 

And it’s not all about Don. If there’s a whiff of creativity in your bones, there’s also the excitement of witnessing the evolution of ad campaigns developed by Mad Men’s band of eccentric characters, and the office politics that so often screw them over. But if you’re kind of indifferent to politics and lavish styling after a crap day at the office, the pivotal reason for us sad cougars to watch Mad Men has to be to revel in Don Draper’s male beauty as he smoulders his way through each episode, pulling us slowly into his dark world, leaving little room for any other male character to light our fires – except for Roger and his twisted witticisms.HomelandTVSeries

 

Don Draper may be a very bad man, but he is the very attractive, tortured-soul type of bad man that every woman falls desperately in love with.

 

I defy anyone to diss the wise, godli/goodness of Coach Taylor on Friday Nights Live. If you want to learn both how to, and how NOT to raise teenagers, this series is the best visual parenting manual on Netflix. There are so many wise, schmaltzy, one-liners in this series to come out of Coach Taylor’s mouth as he gees up his motley team each week to get them to the football State finals *yawn*, they’d make Margaret Thatcher weep.

 

Who truly needs the Huffington Post Parenting Blog when we can learn from the Taylors’ parenting mistakes with their sullen daughter, Julie?

 

Like the rest of us, these two don’t escape the quagmire of parenting a teenager easily, even though they are upstanding, God-fearing Texans with hearts of gold. While Tami (pronounced Teimi, ya’ll) insists in every episode that communication is the best ingredient for a successful relationship with your teenage daughter, every time sulky Julie opens her heart to her, she flips her lid. I try not to judge; we’ve all been there. And far be it for me to even notice the team of hot players – TIM FUCKING RIGGINS!!!! – I wouldn’t want to be accused of ogling eighteen-year old boys or anything.

 

If you need more encouragement about this series, here are some of Coach Taylor’s best quotes: (To be read in a Texan drawl)

 

“Every man at some point in his life is gonna lose a battle. He’s gonna fight and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man, is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.”

 

“Money comes and goes, yeah? These kids of ours… that’s a one-time deal.”

 

And finally, onto the more serious business of Homeland.

 

This series has proven to me that I’m nowhere near as intelligent as I thought I was. If the old man and I get to the end of an episode of Homeland without asking each other ‘what the fuck just happened?’ or ‘did you understand what the fuck was going on?’, we’re secretly disappointed. Gritty, action-packed and fearless – and that’s just Carrie’s facial expressions – Homeland is one of those series where you have to remember to breathe during an episode. And, well you know what a sucker I am for mental illness? Carrie brings the whole shebang of Bipolar craziness to the party, with the super intelligence, intuition and genius that often goes hand in hand with it.

 

The woman even rocks a wig when she’s trying to go incognito, FFS!

 

TAKE YOUR FUCKING MEDS, CARRIE!’ I must shout at the screen in just about every episode.

 

Added to which, the series has proven itself ahead of the game in terms of world politics, and although fictional, there’s a lot to be learnt here about how government intelligence bureaus really work. The series has offered up its share of hot men, too, (the most vital component for staying awake during any series in my book), and even made gingers look attractive in its first series, although even I’m questioning how Quinn can possibly have survived that many bullet wounds without hospitalisation.

 

Fortunately, each new hole is a guarantee he’ll get his shirt off.

 

The Bachelor

Call me a sad, vacuous, half-wit but I’m glued to The Bachelor on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The Bachelor
Photo courtesy of Russell Jenkins at http://www.flickr.com

 

But only for research purposes – OBVIOUSLY – for my thesis on women and modern-day dating practices.

 

I was a ‘Bachelor’ virgin before this series. I’d heard about the hype, of course, but being the staunch feminist that I am, I was appalled that women existed who would subjugate themselves to such a demeaning social experiment on television, and so I denied myself.

 

Then I remembered how much I used to enjoy Big Brother, and it also became harder to ignore the tweets that continually bombarded my twitter feed whenever #TheBachelor aired, and I kind of missed not being part of something which creates so much controversy.

 

So I lost my Bachelor V plates this series.

 

And I DO know that the bachelorettes have CHOSEN to do this show and feminism is about women having choices, but the premise of the show still sits uncomfortably with me, no matter how many times Blake gratuitously takes his shirt off.

 

But in spite of my feminist conscience I still watch it.

 

It might have something to do with this season’s Bachelor, Blake Garvey, who is undisputedly both the thinking and drinking woman’s crumpet. So far he seems perfect. Not only is he tall, dark, handsome and successful, he’s super hot even by my middle-aged standards, (and far from afraid to whip out his guns at every perfect camera angle), worships his mum and family and his biological clock must be ticking loudly because he’s told us on more than one occasion that he wants babies as soon as he finds his princess.

 

And HE WANTS MY BABIES!…I mean, he wants babies.

 

So obviously, he can’t possibly be ‘real’ – but who cares? That’s what entertainment is all about – being able to suspend belief and pretend for a few hours each week that such men might possible exist in another universe. Even I ovulate when he talks about wanting to procreate, and my ovaries were well past their use-by date years ago.

 

And visually the series is a real treat after a hard day at the office and having to stare at the man you’ve been married to for over twenty years. It’s set in some of Sydney’s most beautiful properties and landmarks and if romance is your thing, the producers must have hired the ghost of Walt Disney himself to invent the romantic dates. We’ve had ice-skating in a winter wonderland, extreme sports that test even action man Blake (who seems on occasion as vulnerable as the ladies, which makes us love him even more), buckets of Champagne and oodles of tear-jerking sentimentality.

 

Did I mention how much Blake wants babies?

Sleeping baby
Sleeping baby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But this is a reality show and no reality show is successful without a huge dollop of dirt, some serious sordidness and social antagonism to feed its viewers.

 

It’s those uncomfortable parts of the show we all love to hate (that make us cringe awkwardly on the sofa and force us to make polite exits to the kitchen to make excessive cups of tea) – yet secretly love. It’s several weeks into this series and the masks on Blake’s potential harem are beginning to crack – even Mr Perfect has expressed the odd perplexed look on occasion. We’re down to the final ten women now (roughly), although you don’t need a degree in psychology to pick the final line-up of lucky ladies from the start – it’s the mean girls from high school who do most of the bitchy thoughtful commentary about Blake and the other competitors, and without stereotyping, they’re the bigger personalities who no one would dare get into a cat fight with.

 

The humor is subtle in The Bachelor. It emanates from the frozen, bunny-boiler looks of the contestants, the ‘why did she wear that?’ moments and the looks of innate fear that sometimes pass over Blake’s face when his guard of perfection comes down and he inadvertently shows us some personality (or forgets that he’s on telly).

 

The programme is cleverly edited to mislead the public and to cultivate the suspense. Women who should have been ousted in week one, are ominously still there as catalysts and occasionally Blake makes a highly suspect decision at the rose ceremony, (that has obviously come directly from the director), when it comes to which women to save with his roses.

 

The obvious question is: why he is there at all and why are the bevy of beautiful women he is dating there too? If they can’t attract a partner, who the fuck can?

 

But who the fuck cares what their reasons are. This is entertainment, folks!

 

And this gorgeous man does want babies, which makes those of us with weeping ovaries ignore the rights and wrongs of the philosophy of the show.

 

I lie awake at night and worry about whether the women have considered the risk of cold sores. And even though Blake is obviously the perfect man, bigamist Blake doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong in playing the field to find his perfect woman, even though the Blake Harem cackles and plans his death, Games of Thrones style around the Champagne cauldron, as soon as the series ends.

 

I’m glad I don’t have to date anymore. It looks truly terrifying. Extreme sports aside, imagine having to wear false eyelashes, smile ALL the time and watch what you eat.