Rewatching The Sopranos

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Like any good movie geek, I've got David Thomson's "Have You Seen ...?" - the companion volume to his epically awesome Biographical Dictionary of Film - high on my Christmas list this year. And as with the Dictionary, a big part of what I'm looking forward to is the chance to disagree, vehemently, with Thomson's assessments. Here's Ben Schwarz's review in the latest Atlantic, and here, via Schwarz, is an example of what I mean:

Thomson is most penetrating when he develops and enlarges his ideas and arguments over multiple entries, and when he's neither praising nor slamming but simultaneously giving and taking away: see his ambivalent analyses of Do the Right Thing; Tinker, Tailor; the often magnificent Heaven's Gate, the photography of which is exactly "heartbreaking"; and The Sopranos--expertly done, but "The Godfather plays every year; The Sopranos in reruns will bore you."

Well! The Godfather does play every year, but it's also only three hours long, and thus a completely different artistic animal than The Sopranos, which clocks in roughly eighty hours when all is said and done. There's no perfect analogy here, obviously, but on length alone it's a little like comparing James Joyce's "The Dead" to David Copperfield. Yes, Coppola's masterpiece has a self-contained perfection to which a long-running television show simply can't hope to aspire - and yes, as a result, there are episodes and even long swathes of David Chase's show that bore upon reacquaintance, just as there are sections of Copperfield or War and Peace that I wouldn't care to read and re-read every year. But trust me: I'm watching The Sopranos in re-runs right now, and as a cumulative experience - allowing for bumps and blind alleys and boredom along the way - it's no less impressive than the first time or two I watched it.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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