You can thank The Sopranos for Breaking Bad, The Wire, Game of Thrones among countless others.
Before the latest lockdown, I’d never seen The Sopranos, despite it being one of my late grandfather’s favourite shows. He was such an avid fan of mob movies and series he was nicknamed The Don within our family.
The Sopranos changed how we watch modern television, David Chase’s six-season thriller about a New Jersey crime boss who juggles the responsibility of his family and home life, as well as the trials and troubles associated with his business in ‘waste management’.
The show has been credited with starting the anti-hero narrative through TV. In layman’s terms, you root for the bad guy even though you know they’re bad, just like in hits Breaking Bad or Dexter.
The show has become a pop culture reference, with more times than not, ‘THAT ending’ alluded to. These types of series have become even more popular in recent years with Netflix projects such as Ozark and have had a resurgence in views mainly thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
In part, that’s one of the reasons for me writing this retrospective review. If you’re looking for a new series and haven’t been able to decide on what will keep you entertained this half of lockdown, I’m going to tell you why it should be The Sopranos.
The Sopranos is a time capsule of the late 90s to early 2000s. The series takes you along in real-time, often with year-long splits between seasons, starting in 1999 all the way until 2007. The series explores racial tensions that were ignited after 9/11 as well as challenging family values among Italian American families during this period, asking questions about marriage, sexuality, mental health, and addiction as well as other contentious issues.
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is the lead protagonist in the show, a ruthless Capo in a New Jersey crime family. He begins seeing a psychiatrist; Dr Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and the show stems from the basis of their relationship.
The pilot begins with Tony meeting Dr Melfi after he was referred to her when he collapsed from a supposed panic attack where we learn more about Tony on a personal level and begin to root for him, all while being shown the brutality of his regime as one of the most powerful gangsters in New Jersey.
The best thing about The Sopranos has to be the incredible writing, before this show it was unheard of that one series would have hour-long episodes that build a narrative rather than be cut and dry within the hour.
Comparable to an oven pizza, it looks great on the box and is easy to make but it’s lacking that something extra, The Sopranos is like Carmela’s famous lasagne, a delicately, ordered affair with twists of flavour throughout.
“Critics have called it the TV series of all time and it’s understandable as to why it holds that top spot”
Chase’s writing is massively enhanced by James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano in what many critics regard as the performance of a lifetime, grabbing himself Emmy nominations for each year the show ran and bagging three of the awards in consecutive years.
The show provides perfectly timed comic relief, with some of the most iconic characters in TV history providing said relief. Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri (Tony Sirico), Christopher Moltisanti (Micheal Imperioli), and Currado ‘Junior’ Soprano (Dominic Chianese) the quick one-liners or extended dialogue between these characters makes the show easier to become invested in.
You begin to like these characters and their quirks but find yourself ignoring the heinous acts of violence they routinely commit.
That is what made the show so revolutionary, it allowed for the viewer to see the moral compass of a mafioso, albeit a very warped compass, but nonetheless, The Sopranos gives us an honest insight into the justification behind organised crime but parallels those who are surrounded and most affected by it.
Critics have called it the best TV series of all time and it’s understandable as to why it holds that top spot, after 86 episodes it feels safe to call the show a masterpiece.
The relationships between characters feel real, you see Anthony Jr (AJ) grow up from a 13-year-old boy in the pilot to a 20-year-old man in the final episode and you don’t want the show to end, but it does – in one of the most famous TV show endings.
All is not lost as Chase and other members of the shows writing team have worked on a prequel film to the original show. James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, will play a young Tony navigating the Newark riots in 1967 while trying to up his rank in his crime family.
The Many Saints of Newark is scheduled for release in September 2021.