Couches and Crime Families.
From Gogglebox to Friends, our own living rooms to The Simpsons, sofas are a massive part of the TV experience, both on and off the screen. Any fans of TV bingeing will understand the importance of a decent seat, but they also happen to play pivotal roles in two of the most critically acclaimed dramas of the last fifteen years.
Bear with me.
Gomorrah and The Wire arguably share a lot of their DNA already (both are series that focus on crime families in various states of success and disarray) but it was their similar, almost obsessive, attention to furniture that really caught my eye. Both show’s pilot episodes feature an inanimate character in a pivotal role, whose lack of dialogue doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have anything to say. Also he gets sat on quite a bit.
It’s not such a weird assertion — the couch featured in David Simon’s pilot for The Wire was so important to the show’s creator that the original, a beaten up piece found in a dumpster by the crew, had to be painstakingly recreated, across two continents, when the first was mistakenly thrown away.
“We had to make that couch. Make the frame, send away to Scalamandre in London for the fabric because they were the only place that had crushed orange velvet. It was not popular at the time we were shooting the show. Then we had to age it, split it, pull the stuffing out. It ended up being a $5,000 couch. But we made it as close as possible to the other couch. I don’t think anybody knew. We didn’t even tell the producers.” — Vincent Peranio
That orange couch is to The Wire as the Central Perk couch is to Friends — it’s iconic not only to the audience but important to the characters, as a central water-cooler location.
In contrast to Baltimore’s dilapidated projects, Gomorrah’s Don Pietro has a sofa conundrum, as the crime boss spends the whole of the Italian series’ pilot trying to decide which sofa would best suit his palatial home. While members of his clan fight and die on his behalf, he’s busy testing the firmness of the padding.
“Why’s it so hard?… Is that how it is or is it defective? I don’t like it. We have to change it.” — Don Pietro
Unlike The Wire’s sofa, perched upon by the young gang-members and left outside in the elements, Don Pietro moves three consecutive pieces in and out, as he tries to find the perfect balance between softness and support.
It’s a stark contrast between the lives of the bosses and their crews — hammered home towards the end of Gomorrah’s excellent opening episode when Don Pietro is informed of the disastrous outcome of an operation against a rival.
“I’ll settle for that” he says, before going back to the vital business of picking the right sofa.