Why I liked the Sopranos but couldn’t tolerate Breaking Bad

Finally back in America. The amount of stuff I have to do by the end of January is not only absolutely unbelievable, it also contains several list items that are individually unbelievable. As in, I cannot believe that I have to do some of these things, because they are absurd. None of them are bad things however. Actually nothing bad is happening in my life at all. My life is, like, fractally good: every individual portion of it is as good as the whole. (Well, except that my primary computer isn’t turning on. But whatever, that’s what I got the extended warranty for)

Err…I’ve been watching The Sopranos recently. It is very good. I enjoy it a lot more than I enjoyed another show that has a similar premise and has received a similar amount of critical acclaim: Breaking Bad. I just could not get into Breaking Bad. I watched three episodes and was, like, “This is too brutal for me. I just cannot handle it.” The first six episodes take place over what, like, four days? And awful things just keep happening. Walter White murders someone in the very first episode! And then in each subsequent episode he murders someone in a slightly more intimate and dehumanizing manner!

No one could like the sopranos as much as this crazy person.
No one could like the sopranos as much as this crazy person.

This is one of my narrative tics. I prefer things that are sweet and nice. I don’t mind grittiness, and there’s plenty of grittiness in my own writing, but I also like there to be some friendship and love and decency in my media. It’s the same reason that I could never tolerate Seinfeld and had a difficult time with Arrested Development and the first two seasons of The Office. They weren’t badly-done shows; they just felt too nihilistic to me. In Seinfeld, you got the impression that these people didn’t even really like each other. I’m not saying that the shows would’ve been improved if they had the sappiness of Friends (which I loved), but I am saying that they were in a style which just didn’t work for me.

The Sopranos is about brutal criminal stuff, but it’s also about ordinary, everyday life—people who go to work and try to do the right thing and actually like each other. Like, there’s an episode in the second season where Tony’s lawyer tells him to back off on the criminal stuff and stay out of the way for awhile. So even though his lackeys are calling him and being like, “Hey Tony, want to come play with a jeep full of stolen World War II memorabilia” he’s like… “Sorry, I can’t.”

And he’s just…ill-at-ease. He misses them. He misses the life. It’s not just about getting paid. There’s something about its pacing, its challenges, and its social modus that he really enjoys, on a day to day level. I like works that have that sort of quietness to them.

In other news, Strange Horizons recently published my review of Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman. I liked the book (though it left me with mixed feelings), but I really enjoyed writing the review. They give you a lot of freedom to go where you want and to be more than just a buying-guide. I’m so glad that there’s room for me on their review pages. The review begins:

The Last Policeman is more of a premise than a novel, but at least the premise is an eye-catching one: in six months, an asteroid is going to collide with Earth and, most likely, wipe out all of human civilization; first, though, Detective Hank Palace has a murder to solve….

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