TV COLUMN: Summer sport, The Sopranos

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television ...

Thank heaven for summer sport to enliven the drab television schedules. And the last few weeks proving that when it comes to sporting events, the classics still hold sway.

The Tour de France (ITV4) has 114 years of pedal-pushing torture behind it and improved UK television coverage – plus the fact that ‘we’ have won it for four of the last five years – has ensured that Britain has caught the Tour bug.

We’re nowhere near the fanaticism the French have for their national event.

There are few such sporting events anywhere that so capture or epitomise a nation’s sporting psyche the way the Tour de France does the French.

This year’s Tour has been a tale of race-ending crashes and incredible sprint finishes. Britain’s Geraint Thomas – just as he did in the Rio Olympics – was one of the many whose race ended in a mess of tangled metal, shredded skin, broken bones and a trip home in an ambulance.

It’s one thing wobbling off your bike as a kid, quite another to tear into the Tarmac at 40mph. If you’d like to recreate the experience at home, try rubbing your leg through a cheese-grater while having a fridge dropped on you.

With an even longer history behind it, going since 1888, are the British and Irish Lions rugby team. This Lions verses New Zealand tour (Sky Sports) has been one of the great rugby spectacles of recent years. It ended, somewhat controversially in the final test, as a drawn and shared series.

Without taking anything away from Sky Sports, whose coverage was excellent, it amazes that the rugby authorities continue to question the continuation of Lions rugby in the modern professionalised era. One solution may be to ensure rugby fans at home have access to it.

Having the matches on subscription television is one thing, but having the radio commentary hidden away on Talk Sport rather than BBC 5 Live was a strategy seemingly designed to ensure the British rugby public couldn’t get wind of it at all. And with time difference kick-offs at 8.35am UK time, the options of communal viewing in pubs and clubs was also limited.

It’s taken cricket some 12 years since the 2005 Ashes high point to realise if you want people to continue to fall in love with your game, you’ve got to allow some it to be seen on free-to-air TV. The Lions may wish to consider this for 2021 tour to South Africa.

Wimbledon (BBC) returned to more traditional format of unlucky but plucky British loser. We’ve been far too spoiled by the likes of Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Heather Watson and Johnathan Marray doing the honours with wins.

It’s far more reassuring to get back to old days when the best Tim Henman was going to do was get a hill named after him. The Murrays and new girl, Johanna Konta, all crashed out before the trophy end of the tournament.

If sport isn’t your thing, then the only other escape from the paucity summer telly is a bit of box-setting and with it now being 10 years since its last episode, where better to go than The Sopranos (also available on Sky Atlantic).

First airing back in 1999, The Sopranos redefined television in its scale, production and cinematic quality. It broke the ground for the likes of 24, The West Wing, The Wire, House of Cards and Game of Thrones – and there more than enough arguments to say it remains the best of the lot.

Set in the world of Italian mafia, The Sopranos is acutely aware of its cinematic Mafioso lineage, with postmodern tilts and nods to the classic canon. It both plays with the received stereotypes, but also goes behind them, with equal weighting given to domestic family life and the personal trials of the protagonist,

Tony Soprano (superbly played by now deceased James Gandolfini). The scenes with his psychiatrist, Jennifer Melfi (portrayed by Lorraine Bracco) are pure genius.

The writing is witty and sharp. The production and acting on a level of Oscar winning standards. If you’re bored with summer TV, you could do a lot worse than working your way through The Sopranos.