Theo Tait reviews Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad:
Brett Martin’s Difficult Men does for the outstanding American TV dramas of recent years what Peter Biskind‘s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls did for the great US movies of the 1970s: it’s an entertaining and insightful history of how they came to be made. The title refers not just to the new breed of televisual anti-hero that emerged from 1999 onwards, when Tony Soprano debuted on HBO, but also to the “showrunners”, the “all-powerful” writer-producers behind them: The Wire‘s David Simon, Deadwood‘s David Milch, Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner, and most of all, The Sopranos‘ David Chase. Martin argues that the open-ended 12- or 13-episode serialised drama became “the signature American art form of the first decade of the 21st century”, the equivalent of the novels of Roth, Updike and Mailer in the 1960s, or the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola and others in the 70s. And he presents the people who made them: a group of grumpy, stubborn, obsessive middle-aged men – mostly veterans of a hard and demoralising (if well-paid) industry, who have spent years writing formulaic cop shows and tired sitcoms.