By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

As much as I love Larry Brown, the best basketball coach ever to grace this planet, I'm well aware there's a good reason he's won just one NBA title and one NCAA championship in more than three decades of coaching.

L.B. is too smart for his own good. He sees things and explains things that his players flat out can't see or comprehend, at least not quickly. And by the time his players have caught on, it's oftentimes too late. They're mentally fatigued, disinterested and downright frustrated.

Brown reminds me of David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos."

The Sopranos
HBO
Has Tony lost his street creds like Isiah Thomas?

Two years ago, near the conclusion of Season 5 of "The Sopranos," I called for Chase's dismissal from my then-favorite TV show. I'd had it. Chase's dream sequences had annoyed me for the last time. I was ready to move on. Tony Soprano needed a new coach. Paulie Walnuts deserved a simpler game plan.

HBO, not surprisingly, was committed to Chase. He'd made the owners of "The Sopranos" too much money. He'd qualified for too many playoffs, sold too much merchandise and been just as much the face of the franchise as James Gandolfini for HBO to abruptly cut him loose.

Nope. Rather than show Chase the door, HBO lavished its famous coach with a contract extension and a two-year vacation. The network assumed that the show's hiatus would expose Chase's critics to the inferior competition, and we would have no choice but to recommit to Chase's complex strategies and unorthodox methods.

The network took one final step to ensure our loyalty. It demanded that David Simon, creator of "The Wire," execute Stringer Bell, the lone rival to Tony Soprano. With Bell dead, Avon headed to the pen on a parole violation and the Barksdale crime family in ruins, HBO figured our longing for Tony and his crew would intensify.

HBO was right. By the start of Season 6 in March, my stance had softened. I was willing to do whatever it takes to enjoy "The Sopranos," including waste midweek hours interpreting Tony's dreams and Chase's hidden symbolism.

I began this season with high hopes. Five episodes in, I'm disappointed.

And I'm disappointed for a whole new set of reasons. In the past, Chase confused me with his dreams, bored me with his symbolism and frustrated me with his penchant for failing to follow numerous story lines to their conclusions.

My problems with Chase now are much deeper. I now understand Chase. I recognize his brilliance. I can follow what he's doing. The problem now is I don't want to think this hard to enjoy a television show.

I have to think on my job. I have to think to keep up with the games women play. I have to think to pay my bills. The average guy considers himself a success if he can keep a job, keep his lights on and keep one woman happy for more than three months. Doing the work necessary to keep up with "The Sopranos" isn't real high on a normal man's priority list.

Here's when I knew Chase was in trouble: After Episode 2, the episode when Tony was in a coma and trapped in purgatory as Kevin Finnerty, I found an explanation/review of the episode online and e-mailed it to Dennis Evans, a 38-year-old sports anchor in Florida, Jeffri Chadiha, a 34-year-old writer for Sports Illustrated, and Kirk May, my 52-year-old lawyer, just so we could talk about the show.

All four of us are college educated and relatively smart. None of us could ever remember needing to do homework to enjoy a television show.

Again, David Chase is brilliant. No one is denying that. And he's actually doing something important with this TV show.

He's completely stripping the Italian mafia and organized crime of its myth of elegance, honor, class, family values, intelligence and machismo. Some critics of the show wrongly think it's a celebration or glorification of the mafia lifestyle.

No. This is not "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" or "Casino" or "A Bronx Tale." It's not even "Scarface."

This is a bunch of low-life clowns risking everything primarily because they're too stupid to do anything else. The mob must hate David Chase. He's putting a giant clown suit on Don Corleone.

Chase is deftly showing how mob life destroys families, and he is meticulously exposing every character as either an imbecile or a coward -- or both.

• To prove to the idiots in his crew that he was still tough and worthy of respect, Tony risked death by picking a fight with the youngest, strongest member of his crew.

• Vito Spatafore, ashamed of his homosexuality, is somewhere in a hotel room contemplating suicide and/or the murder of everyone who knows he's gay.

• A couple of weeks of filling in for Tony as acting boss set off anxiety and asthma attacks in Silvio Dante so bad that he had to be hospitalized.

• Unable to escape the mob and the FBI and incapable of being a good husband or father, Gene Pontercorvo chose to hang himself.

• Paulie Walnuts is so incredibly stupid, insecure and violent that you're left wondering if he's really human.

• Johnny Sac, the devoted family man, has caused his wife and two daughters to develop eating disorders, and has to attend his oldest daughter's wedding with U.S. Marshals as escorts.

• Christopher Moltisanti, a drug addict, had to set up his fiancee to be murdered.

I could go on and on. I'm really halfway jealous. There needs to be a black gangsta/drug dealer equivalent to "The Sopranos" -- an answer to "New Jack City," "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," "Menace II Society," etc.

But you know what?

The truth about criminals doesn't sell as well as fiction. We're so conditioned to seeing mob bosses glorified and celebrated on the big screen and small screen that we don't enjoy seeing them portrayed accurately.

The popular sentiment among my friends who watch "The Sopranos" -- even the women -- is: "Man, I can't wait 'til Tony gets back to being Tony and starts whacking people. I'm sick of Tony being in a coma and being weak. They need to get back to the mob stuff."

I complained to a friend Sunday that watching "The Sopranos" now is like watching Shaquille O'Neal argue with his wife about taking out the trash or picking up the kids after school. I know it goes on, but I just want to see Shaq dunk on people.

David Chase has either forgotten why we watch "The Sopranos" or he doesn't care why we watch. It's probably the latter. He wants us to watch the show "the right way."

I guess I'm Stephon Marbury, because I'd rather watch my way.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. His newspaper is celebrating his 10 years as a columnist with the publishing of Jason's first book, "Love Him, Hate Him: 10 Years of Sports, Passion and Kansas City." It's a collection of Jason's most memorable, thought-provoking and funny columns over the past decade. You can purchase the book at TheKansasCityStore.com. Jason can be reached by e-mail at ballstate68@aol.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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