If Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, with its meandering pop metaphysics about the pricelessness of every moment and us being interconnected atoms and all that stuff seemed overly familiar, it should. Like the vague pleasing vapors of Eastern mysticism put in a blender with the timeless wisdom of the Eskimos, mebbe. If you said it sure felt like an episode of Northern Exposure or something, you'd be right.
This season, Sopranos creator David Chase has brought in his fellow alumni of Northern Exposure, Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, as producers and writers, and I do hope that last night's installment isn't what we have to look forward to for the rest of the run. Those eloquent vacuousnesses were kind of cute set in Alaska, where there isn't anything better to do than muse about rocks and birds and stuff, but this is New Jersey, with marks to be extorted and wiseguys to be whacked.
I could also have lived without the sideways snarks at the consciences of pharmacists re dispensing abortifacients, the cold efficiencies of the health insurance industry, and Evangelicals as creepy Old Earth creationists who look like Christian Slater off his meds.
Entertainment without moral passion is television, said Rita Mae Brown, and I've admired Frolov & Schneider for their career accomplishments in elevating the form. But Brown also noted that moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and that's what we got on Sunday. The ideological product placements did nothing to advance the plot or characters, and their baldness took me out of the dramatic moment as the authors parked their own post-Enlightenment sensibilities in brutal mobster Tony Soprano's mouth. Next he'll be on about the inherent morality of tax increases.
I go to The Sopranos for the Iliad, not for The Chris Isaak Show, which Frolov & Schneider helmed, too. I want epic, not Oprah, y'know? Achilles didn't give a fig about carbon dating.