Twenty years ago the HBO series The Sopranos first aired on HBO. Watching it again it reminds us of how great a tv show can be when given the chance.
The pilot, like most of the episodes, is a piece of art that can stand alone by its self. Mixing black comedy with similar family dynamic to a Simpsons episode, as well as combining it with the testosterone-driven world of the Newark mafia, was a masterstroke by the creator David Chase.
Even though it was the first of its kind in the genre of “prestige TV”, it still stands apart from more recent efforts such as Game of Thrones or Stranger Things. You never got the feeling while watching the Sopranos that any aspect of the show was created by a committee of suits or marketing executives. Unfortunately, this is less the case with Stranger Things.
Although supplemented with a great cast, and executed with pleasing cinematography, there is something that comes across as shallow and lacking with the show. So much of it feels like it was cooked up to be passively consumed, binged and forgotten about it afterwards.
A key example of this was in Season 2 of the show when an entire episode involved the character Eleven hanging out with other products of the experiments which created her powers. It felt as tacky as Suicide Squad and as pointless to the plot as the inexplicably highlighted death of *Barb* in the first season.
The logical conclusion is that the episode was likely to create a new cast for a spin-off in the show, and generate more money for Netflix. Thankfully due to the negative reaction to the episode, no such show has seen the light of day. If you allow your show to compromised so much that a full segment of it is a mere product test, you dilute its importance.
In sharp contrast, The Sopranos exists on the other spectrum. Over its six seasons, it was crafted by people who were invested in making something powerful and great. Entire episodes were devoted to Tony Soprano’s psyche via dream sequences. Each one highlighted the major themes of the show, mainly being how Tony’s decision to get involved in the “life”, has destroyed any hopes of what he truly wants in life. A stress-free normal family lifestyle.
Importantly, not one of these episodes crossed the line into self-indulgence or artistic masturbation. It seemed vital, and held you down onto the edge of your seat, demanding your gaze with its brilliance.
Although not all shows have to be in this style or reach this creative plateau, it shows off how great television can be. For what Stranger Things is, it does do some things great. However, if it continues down the path of pandering fully to the masses, it will be forgotten a lot quicker than the Sopranos will be.
We can just hope that new shows today will be risky enough to follow its path even if it means cutting to black once in a while.