R.I.P. James Gandolfini


(HBO/Barry Wetcher/AP)

Reading the obituary of James Gandolfini, we learn how modest he was — a self-described 260-pound Woody Allen. This is sad news to absorb. Big loss. Gandolfini  came out of relative obscurity (had you ever heard of him?) to create, along with David Chase, the compelling figure Tony Soprano — neurotic mob boss, family man, professional killer. Tony Soprano is surely one of the top 5 TV characters of all time. [See discussion below.]

This sad news has got me thinking about TV. James Gandolfini was an actor you couldn’t take your eyes off of, even if he was just eating a plate of spaghetti. He had all that coiled intensity. Usually he’d just finish eating his meal and then stagger off to a chair, but you knew that there was a slight chance he’d shoot someone — or worse. He had that knack for body disposal.

I don’t watch much scripted television, and I feel bad about that. It’s not like I’m off reading Proust or doing science experiments in my basement to create anti-gravity devices or any of the other things a guy might do proudly instead of watching the boob tube. I watch sports and news, mostly. Which is unfortunate, since scripted television has generally gotten much better over the years, particularly as cable and subscriber-based TV have loosened the restrictions on content. Somehow I never managed to watch “The Wire” — I know, having confessed this I must resign my position as seer and oracle — and watched only enough of “Deadwood” to know that it set a new record for profanity. But somewhere along the line I got sucked into “The Sopranos,” and once you’re in, you can’t get out.  Here’s one Achenblog item about the Sopranos from back in the day. And here’s my post about the controversial Sopranos finale. (Weirdly the comments on those old blog items are missing. Harrumph. They gotta be around here somewhere….) I always assumed there would be a Sopranos movie, or some king of reunion of the gang of loveable, if psychopathic, mobsters, but that’s not going to happen.The show had an extraordinary ensemble cast, but everything orbited around the big man.

Question for those of you who know the culture better than I do: Who are the top 5 TV characters of all time? I am confident that Tony Soprano belongs. My own list would skew very old, and would include Lucy Ricardo, Archie Bunker and Spock. Homer Simpson? Where do you rank Cliff Huxtable and Hawkeye Pierce? I know there are those who would argue for more recent characters like Don Draper or Michael Scott. Or that guy in “Breaking Bad,” what’s-his-name. I think he’s great. But clearly I need help here.

 

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · June 18, 2013