Thursday, January 11, 2007

Neither fish nor fowl: The Sopranos on A&E

Rather than do my usual video game review last week, I was asked to take a look at the newly-"safe for regular TV" version of "The Sopranos, which debuted yesterday on A&E. Here's my assorted thoughts, plus a little sidebar breaking down the edits for you. All because I care.

Remember back in the days before cable TV and VCRs, when if you wanted to see an R-rated movie on TV it would be heavily edited to the point that you wondered why they bothered broadcasting it in the first place?

Well, maybe you don’t, but that’s what came to my mind while watching the edited episodes of the first season of “The Sopranos,” which will be coming to A&E on Wednesday

As with HBO’s other critically acclaimed show — “Sex and the City” that airs on TBS — the show has been edited in order to tone down the level of foul language, nudity and violence that has been the hallmark of “The Sopranos” since it debuted.

The show will not, however, be edited for time, and A&E swears that it has done its utmost to protect the integrity of David Chase’s creation, using alternative footage and pre-recorded dialogue to comply with broadcasting standards.

While the syndication of “The Sopranos” means folks like my father-in-law will finally be able to watch the show, part of me wonders, in this age of DVD players, just how well this move will bode, especially with the fervent Sopranos fan base.

The biggest flaw is not the toned down adult content, but the fact that the show is no longer presented in letterbox format.

One of the things I always enjoyed about “The Sopranos” — apart from the great writing, acting and directing — was the attempt to give the show a cinematic flavor, clearly marking it as different from your standard TV fare. Seeing the show cropped to fit the basic “square” format is disconcerting at best and ruinous at worst.

The other glaring problem with A&E’s version is the dubbed-over swearing. First, it seems oddly arbitrary, if not hypocritical, that certain words that you thought would be verboten in this day and age seem to be fine while others are not. But that’s the FCC’s problem and not A&E’s.

No, the problem with the swearing, or the lack of it, is that it’s so obviously dubbed over. Hearing Tony say “freaking” instead of, well, you know what, sounds so obviously wrong that you’re pulled out of the story fast.

Surprisingly, the toned-down nudity and violence is actually less of a problem. Yes, certain scenes are robbed somewhat of their horror or humor, but overall the differences are minimal. Apparently, images of people getting shot in the head is of less concern with the powers that be than saying certain 12-letter words.

It remains to be seen how light the editing will be with the upcoming episodes. The violence and sex in the first season is almost benign compared to what comes in the following years. How will A&E handle the depravity that is coming down the pike?

That prickly question is almost enough to make me want to keep watching the A&E episodes. Almost.


How does the edited version of “The Sopranos” compare with the original? Here’s a quick breakdown. Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, tread lightly.

HBO: Tony and Carmela have an argument about him seeing a psychiatrist. He lets loose with a string of expletives and Carmela tells him to “get his own [you-know-what] Prozac.”
A&E: Swear words are changed to more benign terms like “freaking,” “hell” and “really.”
Final tally: It’s pretty obvious the dialogue has been dubbed. It’s also pretty distracting.

HBO: Upon learning of the death of mob boss Jackie Aprile, a topless dancer at the Bada Bing Club vows to “always remember where she was this day.”
A&E: Same line, but this time the dancer is wearing a swimsuit-styled outfit that covers her breasts.
Final tally: Clothes or no clothes, it’s still a good joke, but the nudity makes it funnier.

HBO: Christopher and Paulie chase a rival mobster through the woods and gun him down when he trips in a stream. Lots of blood.
A&E: Pretty much identical, though there is some slight re-editing so that you don’t see quite as much blood spilled.
Final tally: It’s a tie, as the difference is pretty negligible.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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At 12:28 AM, Blogger Christopher Butcher said...

Chris- If Sopranos is to be held to the standard you're discussing, then why are you using [euphamisms] to describe the dialogue in your newspaper? Isn't that as worthy of comment as the FCC's banned words?

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I suppose. Certainly I was aware of the irony of being unable to use the f-word in a story about a show that was having all the f-words edited out. I probably could have been a bit more eloquent and less cute in dancing around the issue, but coulda, woulda, shoulda.

It's generally well known that daily newspapers are one of the last bastions of good American wholesomeness where to even let a damn slip could get you an angry phone call. I could go on for hours about how ridiculous the whole thing is (especially in the magic land of comic strips where impropriety must never be hinted at).

In newspapers, though you still can't say "prick" or "asshole." Apparently you can now on cable TV, which I find odd since those words, to me, can have just as much bite as shit or fuck.

To me, the question wasn't should A&E offer an edited version of The Sopranos -- they can do whatever they like -- but were the edits distracting enough to damage the viewing experience? For me, they were. That was surprising to me, because I thought the toned-down sex and violence was going to be the problem, not the swearing.

Does that answer your question at all?

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At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Viagra said...

The Sopranos is a great show but i prefer the original HBO version than the A&E, i don't like things to be all edited and edited, the show was made in one way and it should go the same.

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