Well, during my regular unplanned sabbatical from the TrekBBS, one of the many things I did was watch the entire series of the Sopranos on DVDs that had been graciously lent to me for the duration. It's really not easy to sit down and watch a series after being told repeatedly it was one of the best series ever made; and I had wondered if the Sopranos' popularity was based more on the influx of serious-minded cable dramas that resulted from the show. But hey, I loved Mad Men, so it was worth a shot. Alas; no amount of hype could really obscure the inescapable conclusion that the Sopranos really is as good as it's marketed to be; and perhaps even better. I have very little actual criticism of the series. Well, I still feel it could have benefited from more Hesh Rabkin; it dropped the ball on Meadow Soprano more then once - with her relationship with her crazed roomate and later Finn being tidily resolved offscreen (in the former case, years later). The show also always seemed uncertain as to what it wanted to do with Dr. Melfi as a character - after futzing around in the first season ineffectually about her personal life, giving her a shrink to reverse her dynamic with Tony (played by Bogdanovich, a nice touch) was about the only thing that worked with her. Getting her raped almost seemed to be more about running out of ideas then anything else; her termination of her relationship with Tony wasn't entirely satisfactory (yes, a paper suggested it was a bad idea, but she'd been treating him for seven years with an apparent belief that it included progress; does she so readily discount her own opinon?) Anyway, it was interesting to me how the show - which initially made her such a major part - wound up devoting far more time to the role Bracco turned down, Carmella Soprano. Oh, yes, Carmella Soprano. I haven't thought long and hard about who my favourite female characters on TV are (for various reasons, sadly, it'd be a short list) but Carmella would definitely make and very likely top such a list. Absolutely fantastic, memorable character from year to year; with her blithe wrestling wtih Catholic morality and respectable sense of suburban ways. When her husband is pulled over for a parking ticket that she observes the cops should be spending more time trying to get the real criminals is a priceless moment. Women in other mob dramas can be invisible - Michael Corleone's mother exists literally as a plot point in his souring relationship with Fredo - but Livia Soprano was riveting viewing for her time on the show. I like observing that Nancy Marchand once played Frasier Crane's mother on an episode of Cheers; where she is a dominating, domineering woman who pulls a gun on Diane when trying to manipulate her. A connection? Probably not, but I'd like to think so. In general, though, this show just had an excellent supporting cast; and a mostly consistent level of quality writing year in, year out. But whatever, cast-wise Gandolfini... well. He inverts my expectations rather tidily. After Godfathers and Goodfellas, one almost expects the protagonist in a mob drama to a slim, handsome man; perhaps with a patrician air - as Michael at least did. In stead we get a slovenly nouveau riche-type who is also by far one of the most consistently compelling and downright entertaining characters I've seen on TV. Oh, and I liked the ending. It was a slap in the face, sure, but AJ's line that harkens back to the way the final scene from the first season makes it feel like a tidy bookend. Bottom line; it's a fun, addictive ride and I'll miss it now. Best TV show ever made? If not, then 'one of the'.