#53 – The Pinnacle of Television – The Sopranos

Created by: David Chase

Written by: David Chase, Terence Winter, Mitchell Burgess, Matthew Weiner, Robin Green, Michael Imperioli

Starring: James Gandolfini, Eddie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie Lynn Sigler, Aida Turturro, & Drea De Matteo

The Sopranos was an American crime drama that aired from 1999 until 2007. The story, for those of you who are unaware at this point follows the life of Tony Soprano. A new Jersey crime boss as he balances his family life with his other family, the organised criminal empire where he sits at the head table.

The Sopranos was a cultural phenomenon that forever changed the shape of Television and ushered in the golden age of TV. In a show that refused to flinch away from the darker sides of life, we follow our main antagonist Anthony Soprano. The audience grows to care for him and wish the best as we’re along for the ride with him. Over the shows eight year runtime we see violence, betrayal, marital indiscretion and the struggles facing family and the world of organized crime in the modern world. The Sopranos changed the game in a way never seen before nor since. The Sopranos has cast such a huge shadow over all that has come since its premiere. I’ve been around this show for as long as I can remember. My father watched and adored the show when it aired and I wanted so sit with him and be a part of the experience. The genius on display went right over my head and as a kid I wanted to see who got whacked and hear them swear. When I grew older I picked up on more, the finer points and intricacies of the acting, writing, directing right down to the music on display. I’ve revisited the show and rewatch it at least once a year. I have yet to become bored and honestly I become more infatuated, obsessed and inspired everytime I go back to visit the New Jersey crime family.

With the upcoming prequel film coming out this year The many saints of Newark, I thought it was a perfect time to rewatch the show and think about it again.

The Story

The Sopranos picks up with Tony Soprano waiting outside a psychiatrists office. This is where we get to know who Tony is as he discusses his life with Dr. Jennifer Melfi who becomes an integral part of the show as she aims to help Tony with his panic attacks. Tony becomes overwhelmed by both his commitments to family and his role in the New Jersey crime family. He wonders has he missed the best days, has he come in at the end where the best is behind him. Tony has become more successful than his father or uncle ever has, he resides in a mansion in New Jersey where he lives with his wife Carmela and his two children Meadow and AJ (Anthony Jr). Tony’s wife isn’t exactly the stereotypical mob wife, despite her appearance she is such a fierce and strong character on a show with so many male characters that could potentially dominate the series.

Tony also has to deal with his uncle Corrado (Junior) Soprano or Uncle Junior. The pair are in a power struggle from the outset and makes family dinners tenuous to say the least. Tony’s mother Livia Soprano doesn’t exactly help ease the tension. Clearly the matriarch of the family, Livia is later diagnosed by Dr. Melfi to Tony as having a Narcaciatic personality disorder. Rarely a good moment between pair and she isn’t exactly optimistic about Tony’s seeing a psychiatrist. Christopher Moltisanti is Carmelas cousin but Tony thinks of him as family and grooms him as his right hand. As the series begins Christopher is a soldier in the family until getting his own crew. Christopher’s girlfriend Adrianna is a fan favourite and always steals the scenes she’s in.

Tony’s main crew consists of Pauline Walnuts who was a soldier when his father was alive and is an uncle type figure in Tony’s life. Silvio Dante is the family consigliere and childhood friend of Tony’s. As well as Christopher, Big Pussy Bompensero make up Tony’s close circle of associates.

The lasting impact of the Sopranos

The Sopranos is a landmark in television history. The world was introduced to the idea of following the anti hero as its lead. We get a close look into the life of a man who on paper in a murderer, criminal and someone who cheats on his wife on a weekly basis. Yet at its core is a good person with strong family values who wants the best for his wife and children. Without this character study of such a person that paved the way for such shows as breaking bad, the wire, peaky Blinders, Sons of anarchy and Ray Donovan to name but a few. This flawed man became endearing to us, the way we get into his mindset and thought process in his therapy sessions allows us into his head. There hadn’t been anything close in comparison on the small screen to this type of leading man. The antagonist became our hero.

We were gifted the simple greatest theme song and intro to a show ever. The Alabama 3 song woke up this morning is now synonymous with the show. We follow Tony on his way along the Jersey turnpike and passing through New Jersey to his mansion in the countryside. Tony smokes his Cuban cigar for the duration and there’s an infinite amount of coolness as well as an air of masculinity surrounding this that prepares us perfectly for the next hour.

The character development is through the roof in this show. We have so much time to watch these characters grow, change and we get inside their mind. We learn how they think and act, where they come from and we feel like a part of the Jersey crew. The show develops all of its character so excellently, its a masterclass in character work and we become enablers as the audience for their behaviour. We feel like made men as we justify and understand more and more the actions and decisions made by the characters. We want Tony to be happy but we also don’t demonize him when he commits murders and marital affairs on a frequent basis.

The Sopranos paved the way for the future of television. We arguably wouldn’t have shows such as the Ray Donovan, The wire or Breaking bad to name but a few. David Chase created a show that hit us right in the face and left us clambering for more. We want to see where these people will go next. What will they do? Where are they going? Who’s next on the chopping block? Who’s wearing a wire or crossing a line against Tony that gets them whacked. The shows that followed in the Sopranos footsteps as epic and impactful as they are don’t entirely compare to the sheer perfection on display over the shows six season run.

The Sopranos gives us a deep dive into family life from an impossible view. We watch a murderer and career criminal struggle with maintaining a marriage with endless infidelities on mostly Tony’s behalf but he also worries for his children. Tony doesn’t want his son Anthony Jr. To follow in his path, he wants better for him than to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life and worrying about those closest to you walking you into a room and ending you’re life. He worries and wishes the best for his daughter Meadow who’s more like him than he’d presumably like to admit. Meadow has more of Tony’s calculating and cerebral qualities than Aj yet he wants only the best for her. Anthony is a severely flawed and deeply damaged individual but at his core, in his heart he is a family man. He’s not the traditional father by any stretch of the imagination but he has the exact same fears, wishes and dreams for his children that all good parents do for their kids. Tony Soprano is the bad guy we root for.

One of my favourite aspects of the Sopranos is the dark comedy moments scattered throughout the show. I find myself laughing almost each and every episode. From the preposterous statements uttered by some of the shows colourful cast of characters like this gem from Silvio “Leave the fuckin’ cheese there! All right? I love fuckin’ cheese at my feet! I stick motherfuckin’ provolone in my socks at night, so they smell like your sister’s crotch in the morning!” Silvio was deep in a gambling binge when he spat out this gem.

More importantly the Sopranos gave insight into life and something close to it’s meaning and these reflective and insightful lines have stuck with me through the years. Here’s a few to help you too understand a little bit more about life, those of you that understand them as your read then that’s fantastic for those of you that don’t quiet get it, time and patience will reveal their deep meaning.

“More is lost by indecision than by wrong decision.”

“Other people’s definitions of you, sometimes they’re more about making themselves feel better. You gotta define yourself.”

“For every 20 wrongs a child does, ignore 19.”

“There’s no chemical solution to a spiritual problem.”

“Some people are so far behind in a race that they actually believe they’re leading.”

The Sopranos allowed us into the world’s and intimate details of these people. More than creating a TV show David Chase created a world with fully fleshed out characters that we care for. The Sopranos almost more than any other show makes the viewer feel like they’re part of the family, both Sopranos family. I feel like part of the crew, where you look forward to catching up with Pauline Walnuts and hearing Silvio’s Pacino impressions it’s like hanging out with your friends.

The insight into Tony’s life through his therapy sessions is one of the most genius ideas for a character. On a show notorious for having almost every single character not saying what they really mean. Everyone on the Sopranos says one thing but feels another, they’re out for themselves and have their own agenda trying to stay alive. The juxtaposition of this when Tony is in therapy where all of that shit gets stripped back and we see the other Tony, the real Tony. In these intimate moments we see the making of this man what makes him tick and what he contemplates. Anthony is a complex man and through these therapy sessions we see a complete set of emotions a person could possibly go through. We’re allowed access into this man’s mind and we understand his thought process, his reasoning as well as his ability to take the teachings from Dr. Melfi and apply it to his family and criminal life.

Tony feeds those goddamn ducks he’s so fond of

The Sopranos legacy has lived on, thrived and remained as relevant and revered in 2020 as it was when it first aired. I don’t think it would be too outrageous to say that the Sopranos is placed on the same level as gangster epics such as Goodfellas, The Godfather and Casino.

The Sopranos holds a close place in my heart. More than television, more than entertainment it’s a monumental work of art. I know I’m watching something special when I sit down and I see that it’s a time capsule that can never be replaced. Never replicated. The Sopranos lives on and is one of the greatest works of art my eyes have ever seen