Difficult Men: Behind The Scenes Of A Creative Revolution From ‘The Sopranos’ And ‘The Wire’ To ‘Mad Men’ And ‘Breaking Bad’
By Brett Martin
Though this book was written before the death of James Gandolfini, it makes a fitting memorial to his legacy. Martin, a writer for GQ, explains why the major characters in modern television are a lot like Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. He describes how a changing business model, and a revolutionary show called The Sopranos, turned series television from a “vilified commercial medium” into “the signature American art form of the 21st century.” Most of the shows he covers share the same DNA as The Sopranos: they have neurotic male leads, created by almost equally neurotic male writers.
Unlike Alan Sepinwall’s recent The Revolution Was Televised, which focuses more on the artistry of the great shows of the 2000s TV drama boom, Martin is more interested in the personalities of the people who made them. Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, can sometimes seem like “a classic bully,” while Sopranos creator David Chase put his feelings about the decline of America into the mouth of Tony.
Martin doesn’t show much affection for television’s past, and he sometimes unfairly dismisses the work these writers did before they moved to the freedom of cable. And because he focuses almost entirely on male-dominated shows (unlike Sepinwall, who also brought in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer), there can be a sameness to the chapters and even the biographies of the writers. Still, that gives the book a theme as consistent as that of any of the shows: how issues of modern masculinity are at the core of modern TV drama. Or as TV executive Peter Liguori put it, explaining to Martin why Tony Soprano is popular: “Here’s a guy with all that power, yet completely emasculated by his mom and wife.”