Monday, June 11, 2007

Let Me Get Over You The Way You've Gotten Over Me

Just over nine years ago, Seinfeld was thrown a Cultural Phenomenon Retirement Party rivaling the recent The Sopranos goodbye in both misplaced speculation and media over-saturation. How could fans of either show be satisfied with receiving the standard Gold Watch of finales when we've been imagining a month-long cruise of Mediterranean Sea?

It was after a second viewing years later that I realized how brilliant the final Seinfeld was, despite being critically shredded in 1998 like David Chase is being torn apart today. When Jerry took control of the show after Larry David left, some bemoaned the stylistic turn from everyday observational humor to surrealistic slapstick. Yet if it wasn't for that creative evolution, Sue Ellen Mischke never would have married Peter/Pinter in India, Kramer wouldn't become Merv Griffin 2.0 and there wouldn't be a Festivus for the rest of us. In a few years The Sopranos can be assessed as a body of work rather than a weekly series of unmet expectations.

Larry David and David Chase both returned to their respective franchises after a period of limited involvement to engrave the inscription on the headstones. David's was an indictment of the characters and the fans who loved those characters, for all their selfishness, dishonesty and scorn towards humanity. Jerry and the gang were sent to jail basically for being themselves. My frustration with this season of The Sopranos was its sense of meaninglessness: Vito's troubled son, Tony's Vegas trip, the school asbestos: if these things had a purpose, it wasn't for us to know. That Chase kept the final episode within that theme of ambiguity, rather than tying everything up neatly after months of chaos, is admirable. Unlike David, he's willing to condemn the audience for their crime of bloodlust without getting his hero dirty. Tony Soprano, vicious murderer, gets away in the end while delicate comedian Jerry Seinfeld spends the rest of his days doing airline bits in maximum security.

Other observations:

• I suspected right from the opening seconds there would be no Ultimate Conclusion, with Tony awaking to Vanilla Fudge. "You Keep Me Hanging On", indeed.

• There's no cure for environmental awareness and passionate anti-materialism like a new BMW.

• Agent Harris displaying more emotional involvement in Tony's life than in fighting terrorism. My favorite "FU, audience!" moment.

• LeBron's been catching up on the show during halftimes this postseason. How else to explain the Cavs' awful third quarters?

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