Sopranosfinale_2Journey!?!

Not Tony Bennett? Not The Voice? Not Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons? Not Bruce Springsteen, or even Bon Jovi? Journey!?!

Oh well, maybe that was the point. Mundane. Typical. Pedestrian, even. Maybe it’s just right that the series that was so often over-hyped as the best thing television has ever produced would go out on a this-could-be-anyone’s-family-gathering-at-a-neighborhood-joint note.

David Chase clearly had fun messing with our minds in building all of the Hitchcock-ian tension into the final scene in the restaurant, as we waited for any one of the suspicious-looking characters that seemed to be circling Tony Soprano’s nuclear family (remember what they looked like in season one, as pictured below) to erupt with violence or something that felt finale-ish and fate-sealing. But no, it was a typical family scene, typical, that is, if dad’s a New Jersey crime boss on the downside of his career and mom’s an overprotective but ruthless enabler. And let’s face it, parallel parking is a bitch, no matter who your daddy is.

The instant chatter in the blogosphere on the (not so) fateful episode No. 86 of "The Sopranos" seemed to tilt toward the negative, with many remarking that the abruptly cut-to-black ending first made them think their cable/satellite had gone out just at the money-moment. But perhaps those who were angered or unhappy with the closer were just more motivated to run to their computers to blast away at David Chase, HBO, and anyone else they could think of. There was a lot of insta-speculation that the deliberately-vague ending was motivated by a greedy desire to tee up a "Sopranos" feature film down the road. (Some were even pegging the release date as spring 2009! Everybody wants to play Exhibitor Relations these days.) I’ve got to believe that David Chase has more creativity integrity than that. If not, somebody show him "The X-Files" feature, quick.

It may sound a stretch but perhaps Chase came to something like the same conclusion that Phil Rosenthal did two years ago with the "Everybody Loves Raymond" finale. The best way to honor a beloved series and the fans who made it so is not with pyrotechnics or gimmicks beyond belief but a tribute to the core character relationships that make or break any TV series. (Then again, there’s the "Newhart" ending to beat all endings, which could be called gimmicky, but c’mon…) Appropriately enough, nobody has ever gotten "The Sopranos" better than Alan Sepinwall, the hard-working, hell-of-a-nice-guy TV critic from the Newark Star-Ledger, and he had a smart take on the finale posted barely an hour after it aired. Variety’s Phil Gallo also did a good job of sizing up the finale, from a reasoned, not fanboy, perspective.

Furthermore, as On the Air’s significant other astutely pointed out, it could have been a whole lot worse. David Chase was at the helm of "Northern Exposure" when that once-great series bowed out in mid-1995 with a finale episode, co-written by future "Sopranos" soldiers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess (along with Jeff Melvoin). We’ll never forgive any of them for the worst-plot-twist-ever in having Janine Turner’s Maggie and John Corbett’s Chris "suddenly" discover that they’re soul mates and destined to be together….yeeecchh! (Having that happen is worse than the public-domain music NBC Universal has put in the modern-day DVD sets of NoEx seasons to save money on licensing.)

So aside from the use of "Don’t Stop Believin’" in the closing moments, Chase redeemed himself tonightSopranosfirstseason_3 with this finale that he wrote and directed. Despite the level of over-praising that "The Sopranos" has endured during its eight-year run (give or take a few loooong hiatuses), there’s no denying the impact it has had, on pop culture, on television, on writers and on what networks and studios are willing to accept in the way of anti-heroes, less than tidy endings, etc. etc. I’ll never forget attending an HBO-sponsored screening of the first two episodes (either it was the first two segs or it was a two from early in the first season) at the DGA theater in Hollywood. When the screening was over and the DGA lobby filled with industry cognizati, the buzz was positively electric. People literally could not stop talking about how good — how different — the show was.

No one can claim more credit for this than David Chase, for sticking to his vision and his derring-do, and for assembling the company of talented scribes, directors, actors and producers he enlisted to tell his tales. There aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to express how well James Gandolfini and Edie Falco (oh boy, did she shine this season?!) embodied their alter-egos in a way that ….well, again, not enough superlatives or time to give them their proper due….

By now, the story of how Chase struggled for years to get his baby on the air is well documented. But it bears repeating the names of a few of the suits and such who helped the show along before it found a welcoming home at HBO — particularly one exec in particular who just faced his own real-life whacking (albeit with no lethal consequences), Kevin Reilly, late of NBC who was a "Sopranos" booster during his time as head of Brillstein-Grey Television. Lloyd Braun, late of ABC, Yahoo and now of NBC Universal-based BermanBraun, was also pivotal in the series’ development during his tenure at Brillstein-Grey. Also meriting a shout-out are Robert Greenblatt and Danielle Gelber, now of Showtime but formerly with Fox Broadcasting Co. during "The Sopranos’" time in development-hell there, and of course, Peter Benedek, Chase’s loyal rep at United Talent Agency.

Salute.

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