The Chicago Syndicate: One Last Shot at Glory for The Sopranos

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One Last Shot at Glory for The Sopranos

It’s bound to be a major dramatic moment at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards: the announcement of the winner for performance by an ensemble in a drama series.

Contenders for the award are the casts of “Boston Legal,” “The Closer,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos.”

“The Sopranos” closed its sixth and final season last year with the infamous “cut to black” ending, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what happened to Tony, Carmela, Meadow and A.J. Soprano.

“These are people who have become icons. They are legendary,” said Matt Roush, television critic for TV Guide. “There were so many great moments in the last season—Tony’s brush with death, Dr. Melfi firing Tony, Christopher’s death and Uncle Junior’s decline into dementia. A lot of great material sometimes got obscured by the final episode.”

“The Sopranos” won its second drama series Emmy last year. “It’s the last chance for the show to be honored,” Roush reminds.

“Mad Men,” an hour drama set in a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s, scored major critical acclaim in its first season, winning Golden Globes this year for TV series, drama, as well as for star Jon Hamm, a winner as actor in a television drama. He is also in the running at the SAG Awards for his performance.

“Watching the show, you find it does resonate in your world,” said Mr. Hamm, who plays Don Draper, a dapper executive with a secret past at the fictional Sterling Cooper agency on Madison Avenue. “You work in an office with personalities and superiors and inferiors and people you have to manage and there are different rules, yet all the same stuff was going on in 1960.

“It’s a nostalgic and yet resonant sort of ethic. It’s not mean-spirited, and it depicts a world exploding into a modern aesthetic of midcentury ideas, with a very specific, very cool look and attitude.”

“The Closer” premiered in June 2005, and its star, Kyra Sedgwick, also is nominated for a SAG Award for her performance. “In some ways it looks like a star vehicle for Kyra Sedgwick, but the bench strength in all the other actors is amazing. They are almost overqualified and get to rise to the occasion,” said Mr. Roush. “There’s a lot of terrific, stylish acting, and so many colorful characters. There’s no question she’s the star, but there are a lot of meaty characters in and around her life.”

“Boston Legal,” spun off from “The Practice” in fall 2004, follows the personal and professional lives of the attorneys at the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.

“This is a show that Hollywood adores,” said Mr. Roush, pointing to its numerous Emmy Awards. “David Kelley writes colorful dialogue, and James Spader gets to wow everyone with Kelley’s writing. These are the most eccentric characters on television, and they milk those eccentricities, and the industry seems to love that. I guess it’s because they get those big scenes in the courtroom and get to indulge quirky characters.”

The cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” won the SAG Award last year for dramatic ensemble.

“What it has is charisma, and one of the sexiest casts on TV,” Mr. Roush said. “The ensemble is one of the most watchable. They play flawed characters set in a hospital with life, death and love commingled, and played in a way that draws people in. The show has made stars of a lot of people: Ellen Pompeo, Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight and Chandra Wilson.”

Four of the five actresses vying for SAG honors for their performance in a drama series have impressive credits on the big screen, and one was the first actress to sweep all the major television awards in one season, winning a SAG, the Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance as a mobster’s wife.

That would be Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano.

“Carmela is one of television’s great characters. She’s just as ruthless as Tony, but in a different way. She remained great through the end, even when her role wasn’t as central to the action,” said Mr. Roush.

Ms. Falco and “The Closer’s” Ms. Sedgwick as Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson are up against a pair of contenders in first-season dramas: Glenn Close, who plays attorney Patty Hewes on “Damages,” and Holly Hunter in her first starring TV role as Oklahoma City police detective Grace Hanadarko on “Saving Grace.” They’re joined in the category by Sally Field, who portrays Nora Walker, the matriarch on “Brothers & Sisters,” which premiered in September 2006.

“Glenn Close’s role fits her like a glove, and she is devilishly entertaining in a wonderful star performance in a twisty show,” said Mr. Roush. “Holly Hunter is allowed to chew the scenery, and playing a self-destructive cop in a flamboyant role is one anybody would be thrilled to have. Sally Field is the premier mom on television, warm, funny and charismatic, yet as crazy as the kids.”

The male actors competing for the SAG Award are Mr. Hamm, James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on “Dexter,” Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House on “House” and James Spader as Alan Shore on “Boston Legal.”

“Jon Hamm as Don Draper is magnetic and at the same time troubled. You worry about him but realize he’s staring into the abyss. Mr. Hamm brings that alive, delivering a very deep performance. It’s a home run,” Mr. Roush said.

“James Gandolfini created a character of incredible depth, the role of a villain who is as human as he is monstrous. You root for him, yet you fear him,” Mr. Roush continued. “Michael C. Hall pulls off an impossible feat: He makes you sympathize for a serial killer. The potential for disaster is huge, but he makes it appealing and thoroughly original. Hugh Laurie as House is a great character, so enjoyable to watch as he confounds patients and frustrates the staff. He’s an impossible person but impossibly appealing. James Spader plays one of the quirkiest characters on TV. People are drawn to him because he is so unpredictable. He nails it.”

Thanks to Hillary Atkin

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