Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Vito, You’re No Don

Since when did “The Sopranos” become a bastion for political correctness? Oh, wait: About three weeks ago, when Vito skipped town fearing for his double life.
See, this is why David Chase wanted to end his show many moons ago—because if you hang around long enough, you become “Brokeback New Jersey.”
Last week’s episode was almost perfect, too, what with demonstrating how the old ways of the mafia are just about over. And that fantastic scene between Tony and A.J. (maybe the best in the history of these two characters’ interaction): We got A.J. dealing with being a Soprano kid (the overriding theme of the entire series, in my opinion), Tony showing some genuine love and affection for his son, and then Tony finally living up to his marital commitments—and hating himself for it.
And then Vito had to rain on the whole parade.
For those that don’t know, captain Vito Spatafore is hiding out in New Hampshire because it was discovered (in a classic, hilarious moment, I’ll grant you) that he is, in fact, gay. (Justifiably) Fearing retribution, he bolted for the hills, biding his time in a quaint country town.
Joe Gannascoli, who plays the oh-so-put-upon soldier, has stuck his face in front of any reporter he can find to pat himself on the back for the character he’s developed. To hear him tell it, Gannascoli came up with the homosexuality thread and encouraged Chase to develop it into a major story arc.
What a huge mistake.
The best thing about “The Sopranos” has always been its lack of political correctness. Until it became such a cultural touchstone, this show was under fire from just about everywhere, with its sex, drugs, violence, and its creative use of curse words.
There’s been plenty of the latter in recent episodes in light of Vito’s revelation, as the series’ typically solid writers have gone to excessive lengths in demonstrating the mafiosos’ bigotry through homophobic name-calling. Yeah, I got the point three seasons ago when Meadow brought home a black kid from school. This is just one example of how this season has sacrificed artistic integrity for blatant proselytizing. You want some more? How about Meadow’s talking-points rant against the Bush administration or Tony mispronouncing Sen. Rick Santorum’s name a few weeks ago? Man, just once I’d like to be “entertained” without being preached at. I thought I was at least safe with “The Sopranos,” but no such luck.
This Vito storyline is an absolute waste of valuable screen time, not to mention derivative (isn’t this exactly the same setup from last season: Phil wants somebody dead and Tony is handing it “his way”?). Even if Chase & Co. wanted to make a point about homophobia, they could have knocked Vito off in one episode and accomplished that goal. But, no, it’s more than that. This long-winded examination of the troubled homosexual has dragged on and on, delving into the minutiae of his life to show how awful it’s been for poor Vito living his life in the closet. “Sometimes you tell a lie so long, you start to believe it,” he mutters, oh-so-soulfully to his new boyfriend in New Hampshire. Well, boo hoo. I’m sorry, but am I supposed to sympathize with Vito’s plight? Because that’s the only justification I can think of for all this face time (which, on a side note, has reduced my favorite character, Christopher, to nothing more than a court jester). Let’s not forget whom we’re dealing with here: Vito is, hello, a MOBSTER. His life, until this recent foray into antiquing, anyway, consisted of lying, cheating, stealing, extorting, robbing, and/or killing anyone and everyone to make a buck. This is the same guy that put a bullet through the back of his cousin’s head!
They’re all criminals. We’re not supposed to be rooting for them, regardless of sexual orientation. This show has always been about the intrinsic strength of its characters, which makes Vito—a bland nobody—stand out like a sore thumb. There's no way this guy deserves to have not one but TWO of the last three episodes named after him.
Here’s the ironic thing about where I see “The Sopranos” going in this stretch run, though. Now that Tony has a new post-shooting-in-my-enormously-fat-stomach lease on life, he may be heading the way of one John “Waterworks” Sack. Wouldn’t it be great if, by trying to be a better person, that change of heart leaves him vulnerable, less vigilant, eventually leading to his downfall? Talk about sweet justice.
But for now, I guess we’re stuck with poor Mr. Spatafore. Vito, do us all a favor and just die, already.

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