This couch gimmick may have you groaning, since the list of movies where it's been treated facetiously vies only with the list of movies where it deserves to be. But the device works better than you'd expect. For one thing, unless I'm getting soft in the head, Bracco isn't that bad; her career as the Lucy Ricardo of the gangster genre may make her presence here both inevitable and ominous, but she's underplaying her own brassiness for once. For another, Tony's blustering laments about our vanished greatness are often funny. "Gary Cooper!" he bursts out. "Now that was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings! He just did what he had to do. What they didn't know was that once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, he wouldn't be able to shut up!" I even like the dumb joke when Tony admits that he's worried about RICO, and the psychiatrist asks, "Is he your brother?" You also don't need much more of a tip-off to the hero's Oedipal hang-ups than the moment when, pleased that his new shrink's a paisan, he beams, "My mother woulda loved it if you and I got together" and you realize that's his idea of a come-on.
Gandolfini's performance is one of the best reasons to tune in. He's wonderful at conveying Tony's confusion the way he finds his own emotions bizarre, and tries to accommodate them to his swaggering view of himself. (When he's distraught, he doesn't wring his hands; he wrings his fists.) Wife Carmela greets the news that her husband's on medication with such delight that it turns Tony grumpy "You'd think I was Hannibal Lecter before, or something." His bamboozled face is the key to a double-edged tone I wonder whether Chase can possibly keep up; if this series turns into straight burlesque, it'll be tiresome, but if it goes maudlin on us it'll just be gaga. A wistful mobster on Prozac as the incarnation of middle-class America was a metaphor that was waiting to happen.
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