A great poet who had nothing to do with the creation of Cats once wrote: "Things fall apart. The center does not hold." For four years now, The Sopranos has enjoyed a near-unprecedented run of unswerving critical acclaim, an ever-increasing viewership, a notable lack of Emmy awards, and the effortless possession of the sort of cool cachet most celebs would kill for. But considering the events and episodes of the past fortnight, one wonders if things near the center are perhaps not beginning to soften. Spurned by the Italian-American community, beset by allegations of drug abuse and assault on legally blind albinos, the show and its creators now find themselves for the first time face-to-face with the sort critical ambivalence and fan revolt that previously plagued only lesser works like The West Wing. When polled recently by a newspaper, viewers disappointed with this season's direction offered up such trenchant observations as: "If I wanted to watch women chatting about their weight, I'd turn off the TV and talk to my wife." So, are things falling apart? Has the worm turned? And if we are on the downward slope, how quickly can momentum build?
On a tangential but not wholly unrelated note, I'd also like to take a moment to thank the many readers this season who've written (nicely) to inform me about the intriguing trivia and technical minutiae of everything from New Jersey pet food franchises to the proper terminology for various forms of kinky sex play. As a public service and payback in kind, I now hope here to offer a few interesting facts about the animal kingdom of which some of you may not be aware: Most elephants weigh less than the tongue of a single blue whale. The animal responsible for the most human deaths worldwide is the mosquito. The Chacoan peccary, a small, nocturnal wild pig, was originally thought to have been extinct for over 11,000 years, until a live specimen was discovered in Argentina in 1975. Norwegian blue parrots often pine for the fjords of their youth. The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow remains undetermined. According to H.L. Mencken, the phrase "get your goat" can be traced to the practice of unscrupulous gamblers stealing the pet goats of certain race horses, in order to make them more anxious and less likely to run fast. Moles are able to tunnel through 300 feet of earth per day. The longest recorded flight of a chicken is thirteen seconds. Sharks were the first species to utilize internal reproduction. In other words, they invented intercourse. Despite their reputation for being finicky, the average cat consumes approximately 127,750 calories per year, nearly twenty-eight times its own weight in food and the same amount again in liquids. The cat is also the only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible. The whale shark, which is the largest known species of shark, can reach sizes in excess of twelve meters and forty-three tons. Thus it's likely one would need quite a bit of momentum, should one wish to jump one. I'm just saying.