Monday, June 24, 2013
James Gandolfini - The death of a series character
In the aftermath of James Gandolfini's death I was struck by a couple of things, one of which was the level of assessment and accolades thrown his way. I think this was partly fueled by the surprise of his passing due to his young age. The other was how personal people took it.
Here's the thing, and again I say this as a fan (I was managing a video store when True Romance came out and his performance was notable, even then.), his filmography, if taken simply as a list, isn't that impressive. It's not impressive in the same way that Paul Newman's was when he died. It's filled with small parts and memorable supporting roles. His fame rests on the success of primarily one role, Tony Soprano.
The era of TV that we are in now is often referred to as the Golden Age of Television and The Sopranos is often credited with ushering this age in (which is an unfortunate snub to OZ). No one here needs me to explain what the Golden Age of Television is but suffice it to say that one of the hallmarks is its focus on more serial type, long form story telling. The best examples are often compared to novels, or are described with terms that had been reserved for novels.
If you look at a show like The Sopranos where, despite the large cast of fully developed characters, there is one touchstone character the only comparable thing is the series character in novels (Rebus, Bosch, Scudder, Parker, etc.). The Sopranos ran for 86 episodes. That's 86 hours of time spent with this character and those around him. The intimacy of spending that much time with one actor/character is going to really connect him to his audience. Hence the reaction to his death, because we had witnessed what felt like the death of a series character.
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When I was working in the writers' room on The Bridge someone used the old line about the male lead, "He has to be someone women want to fuck and men want to have a beer with," and someone else said, "No, that's okay for a movie, a movie is a one night stand, a series is a relationship."
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