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The Naughts: The Television Show of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Television Show of the ’00s (photo)

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“It’s not TV, it’s HBO” goes the tagline, and in the ’00s, TV was “The Sopranos,” a series that not only defined a channel but, more fundamentally, a decade’s worth of living-room drama.

When David Chase’s series about the titular New Jersey crime family debuted in 1999, it came equipped with a conceit that seemed, dare I say, a tad too cute — a mob boss balancing his two “families,” and buckling under the stress of it all? Yet cute was something the program almost never wound up flirting with, instead carving out a position as both a key member of America’s controversial modern gangster-fiction canon alongside “The Godfather,” “Scarface” and “Goodfellas,” as well as the prime example of the small-screen’s potential to be an artistic venue equal to that of the cinema.

Ten years ago, no self-respecting critic would have made such a case, but bada bing, at the close of this decade, “The Sopranos”‘ influence is now so clear, and so monumental, that it can lay claim to having spearheaded an entire medium’s golden age.

This isn’t to claim that “The Sopranos” is the best show of the decade; in my humble opinion, David Simon’s “The Wire” definitively owns that title. But Chase’s mob show is unquestionably the one that set us down our current bountiful path, proving from the outset — when it garnered record pay-cable ratings, which further skyrocketed in later seasons — that marrying film-quality writing, acting and directing with serialized storytelling that allowed for truly in-depth characterizations and plotting was a recipe for immense critical and popular success.

12032009_Sopranos2.jpgFar removed from the ’80s soapy serials (“Falcon Crest,” anyone? I thought not), “The Sopranos” was an epic fiction unfolding slowly and in immense detail, affording a level of engagement, of immersion in its settings and protagonist’s headspace (with Tony Soprano’s noggin serving as one of TV’s all-time great epicenters of conflict), that many of its cinematic counterparts soon seemed slender and cursory by comparison.

This was exhaustive drama on a grand scale, a long-form novel come to life on Sunday nights. And every show to subsequently employ a continuing storyline, from “Sex and the City” to “Lost” to “Weeds” to “Mad Men,” did so primarily because “The Sopranos” proved that audiences were hungry for (and, thanks to the advent and prevalence of DVRs, capable of keeping up with) alternatives to the “Law & Order” stand-alone formula, not to mention the wealth of sitcoms, that dominated the ’90s.

To spend years getting to know evolving characters in their unique habitats is now a veritable requirement of TV drama, but that wasn’t quite the case until “The Sopranos” began plumbing the deep, dank recesses of its Garden State environment and the nasty, volatile tensions of its mob and domestic family units. Its influence wasn’t just the byproduct of its serial structure; it was also due to its canny use of genre, as the show hooked viewers with a seemingly recognizable mob world and then worked diligently to deliver the basic elements demanded by its fans (murders, double-crosses, criminal schemes) while at the same time not-so-subtly subverting and reinventing its conventions to concoct something fresh and exciting.

“Deadwood,” “The Shield,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Dexter,” “24” and countless others have followed “The Sopranos”‘ lead by embracing bedrock genres and then twisting them into new and daring shapes. In doing so, many of these shows have also attempted to mimic not only “The Sopranos”‘ violence, profanity and all-around raciness, but its heart and soul, Tony Soprano, through their own brooding, dangerous, ultimately conflicted and empathetic anti-heroes. To concoct a compellingly ambiguous protagonist has become the way to launch a show and, more fundamentally, to give a network its identity, with Showtime hitching a ride on the good guy serial killer series “Dexter” and FX positioning itself as the network of The Shield’s corrupt cop Vic Mackey. Even HBO has often tried to duplicate “The Sopranos”‘ template with shows highlighted by charismatic baddies, from “Deadwood” and Al Swearengen to “True Blood” and Vampire Bill. One might argue that none of these offspring live up to their spiritual mob paterfamilias — and I’d say that only “The Wire” and its immense cast of morally complex, fundamentally human characters is up to the task — but certainly, doing like Tony, Carmela and the rest of their Jersey clan did has been the prime tactic of many an ’00s showrunner.

1222009_Sopranos3.jpgThat a basic cable net like FX made its name on provocative continuity-heavy dramas (not only “The Shield,” but “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me” and “Damages”), that the most critically beloved show on TV is AMC’s ’50s ad salesman gem “Mad Men,” and that the most buzzworthy show of the past few years is a narratively perplexing, multicharacter sci-fi mystery like ABC’s “Lost,” all goes to show how much “The Sopranos” has affected the current TV landscape. And that’s not even taking into account the show’s incessantly imitated habit of killing off beloved main characters, which has become so de rigueur that showrunners now spend inordinate amounts of time misdirecting audiences away from surprise cast member assassinations.

Nor does it factor in the “Sopranos” finale’s abrupt cut-to-black, a moment of formal and thematic audaciousness that incensed those fans who tuned in primarily for straightforward mob shenanigans, and thrilled those who recognized it to be merely the last of the show’s myriad daring cinematic gestures. Above all else, however, “The Sopranos”‘ enduring legacy is likely that, by proving the viability of bold, boundary-pushing, mature small-screen drama, David Chase’s landmark show has made cable the dominant realm of cutting-edge TV. After a decade of killings, it seems that Tony’s greatest whack may have been perpetrated on network television’s creative supremacy.

This feature is part of the Naughts Project.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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