We watch... so you don't have to.

TeeVee Awards 2001: Best Hour Show

The Sopranos features nudity, drugs, and violence. Junkyard Wars features guys with welding torches trying to make catapults and hovercrafts. Who could decide between these two shows? Not us, that's for sure.

Why, they're practically the same show, aren't they? On The Sopranos, you've got James Gandolfini's complex portrait of a man trying to be a good husband and father while also being the head of a mob family. On Junkyard Wars, you've got the guy who plays Kryten on Red Dwarf criticizing people's plans for hot rods made out of scrap metal. Why, the coincidences are, well, nonexistent.

Really, the only thing the shows have in common is that they're both on cable. No broadcast channel could show The Sopranos, even without the constant nudity, swearing, violence, drugs, and psychiatry. It's too, for lack of a better word, adult. It's a show that tackles mature themes, and for once, that's not a euphemism for Girls Going Wild on Spring Break.

And Junkyard Wars, aside from being almost pornographic for people who own welding torches, commits the cardinal sin of actually being educational. After watching just a few episodes, the average viewer knows all about the dangers of propellers that turn backwards and masts that won't hold up a sail. We're not sure how we're going to apply this knowledge in everyday life, but our point is that this is a show that throws around phrases like "the Pythagorean Theorem" and "molecular weight". It, too, would never fit in on network television.

Also, both shows have secret themes. While The Sopranos is, on the surface, about the world of organized crime, it's secretly about Tony Soprano's psyche and how his mother messed him up but good. And while Junkyard Wars appears to be about people trying to build vehicles out of junk, it's really about, um, people trying to build vehicles out of junk. Okay, so the shows don't really have anything in common after all. So let's dispense with the lit-major attempts to tie this thing together into a unified whole and just bask in the greatness that is good television. Because let's face it, if we were the sort of people that could make The Sopranos sound like it had the same qualities as Junkyard Wars, we'd probably also be the sort of people who could decide between the two.

The Sopranos is anchored by James Gandolfini's portrayal of Tony Soprano, challenged this year by the award-winning Joe Pantoliano. Although Tony faces the same challenges we all face every day (his son being expelled, his mother trying to have him killed, his bumbling lieutenants failing to kill a Russian and subsequently getting lost in the woods), there's still something compelling about watching him deal with them.

And it's not like Tony's the only thing that The Sopranos has going for it. If you don't like the sight of a man trying to juggle a mob life and a family life -- wait, that's only two things, isn't it? It seems like it should be at least three things if he's going to be juggling things. Let's add "a thriving, if nebulous, career in the waste-management business" to the list -- there are also a variety of character actors with varying degrees of wackiness to watch. If you want someone more on the realistic side, you've got Uncle Junior or Carmela. If you're more in the mood for zany antics, you can't do better than Bobby Bacala or Furio. While we're on the subject, we'd like to give special attention to Federico Castelluccio's portrayal of Furio. Not since Urkel has such precise comedic timing been combined so well with murderous psychopathy.

Meanwhile, on Junkyard Wars, host Robert Llewellyn doesn't actually do anything. He's backed up by Cathy Rogers, who also doesn't really do anything. It doesn't sound like much, but they're really good at it. There is also an endless parade of people with great facility at using power saws to disassemble vehicles. Oh, and if you tune into the wrong week, Llewellyn will be mysteriously replaced by some American guy with a soul patch. Then there are the contestants, but they're not all that interesting either. Frankly, if it weren't for the fact that every episode features showers of sparks and people trying desperately to get junk engines to turn over in time to power their scratch-built combines, we'd quickly lose interest.

Okay, that's not true. The truth is, we'd probably watch even if every episode consisted of nothing but Robert Llewellyn, Cathy Rogers, and six random crackpots with no idea how to build the machine of the week. We know this, because that's really all it is. It's like a reality show, except, you know, interesting.

Additional contributions to this article by: Monty Ashley.


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