HBO’s viewership
can be forgiven if they feel a queasy kind of psychological seesaw effect from the current Sunday-night lineup of The Sopranos followed by Entourage, Zeitgeisty male-world fantasies with decidedly different ideas of character reward and punishment. It’s a little intense segueing from the near-European sense of immorality-engendered personality destruction that seems to have fully taken over the remaining season of The Sopranos to Entourage’s money-and-fame-forgives-all ethos.

On the East Coast, made guy Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) gives as valiant an effort as this murdering thug ever has to go straight — at home and in his veins, if not his job — only to fall off, binge on violence and get unceremoniously snuffed out by his surrogate dad after a near-fatal car accident. Ouch.

On the West Coast, meanwhile, even the perennial hanger-on punching bags are starting to see a little positive reinforcement, with movie star Vincent Chase’s has-been-actor brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon) snagging a hit show, and leeching load Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) making headway with a too-hot-for-him girl who shares his interest in sneakers. Zing!

Of course, The Sopranos has never indicated anything but brutal, unforgiving ends for any of its family members — especially in this mortality-obsessed, vice-rich season — no matter how nuanced and surprisingly human David Chase and the writers make them. And the closest Entourage ever comes to suggesting comeuppance for its Hollywood hedonists is the early heart attack Jeremy Piven’s Ari is surely headed for. So each show is just making good on what it’s always promised. But back to back? The most manic-depressive gestalt on television.

The End of Christopher

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