Gambling With The Sopranos
One of the great advantages of doing a TV show for HBO - particularly a long-running, critically-acclaimed, genre-busting TV show - is that you don't have to fall back on the crutches of lesser television programs. For instance, when you need a dramatic device to signal a major character's downward spiral, you can afford to set it up multiple episodes or seasons in advance, and you definitely don't need to pluck a movie-of-the-week problem - like, say, a gambling addiction that's never manifested itself before - out of thin air. And while it's perfectly plausible that a random New Jersey mob boss would have a crippling gambling problem; it's much less plausible that the Tony Soprano we know and love would suddenly go all Marge Simpson and start blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on "sure thing" football games, after six seasons in which his gambling has been confined, so far as I can remember, to poker games at the Bing and the occasional junket at Foxwoods.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I thought last night's Sopranos was weak stuff, and particularly disappointing given that the first three episodes of this final mini-season seemed to have shaken free of last year's wheel-spinning mediocrity.
In the close-knit but violent world of Sopranos blogging, Jeffrey Goldberg agrees with me about the episode, as does Chris Orr; Matt Zoller Seitz is more forgiving.
Update: And Peter Suderman joins the apologists.