Saturday, October 2, 2021

Review of The Sopranos: A View of this Iconic Show from A Young Fan - Five Reasons Why He Spent His Summer Watching 86 Episodes


By Ashton Samson                                                                              

I had to meet adult Tony Soprano this summer so that I could meet his younger self this fall! For many years, I simply avoided watching The Sopranos because of its length and the commitment that comes with watching 86 episodes of television. Additionally, my hectic schedule would scarcely grant me the time to dive into a show that I knew would enthrall me and leave me paralyzed, eyes glued to the screen, backside to the chair. 

As fate would have it, I concluded that this past summer, mere months before the release of the prequel film The Many Saints of Newark,  seemed like the perfect time to become acquainted with one of television's most iconic characters and my prediction proved correct. 

Not only was the summer the perfect time to acquaint myself, but I would in fact be incapable of watching any other show or film for that matter throughout the two and a half month time span. I was simply hooked. And here I sit ready for the long anticipated premiere of the prequel. I made it!

Every time I complete a film or a show and exclaim “This is fantastic,” or “I loved this,” immediately afterwards I find myself asking why? What made me entranced? After much contemplation, I found that I could safely list five reasons not only why I loved it, but why this revolutionary series was a groundbreaking success in its initial run and still is revisited all these years later. So without further ado, let's get some “gabagool” and “moozadell” out of the fridge and go down memory lane as we revisit the phenomenon that is The Sopranos.

1. The Sopranos Paved the Way for Television as We Now Know It

As a fan of a multitude of modern shows, it is easy for me to see how 
The Sopranos paved the way for television as we now know it. Before it aired, there were few shows, if any, that displayed such exceptional writing that is now commonplace on television such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Ozark, Stranger Things and True Detective, to name a few. Before the show first saw the light of day, television was not to be taken as seriously as film, providing only sitcoms or family tv, unlike today, whereas now, both are treated with equal respect. 

As soon as The Sopranos aired, this changed. Television was gradually considered an equal to film, that could tell mature, sophisticated and even philosophical stories with exceptional acting and layered, three dimensional characters and writing. It was truly groundbreaking.
Additionally, it was the first show to ever depict such graphic violence, profanity, drug use and sexual content that audiences had only been seeing on the big screen to this degree for around 30 years. 

It was also one of the first occasions where the audience truly became sympathetic to a protagonist who was also technically an antagonist, giving birth to the concept of an antihero, a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Before the show aired, in the world of television, it was unheard of to have an ensemble cast that featured a multitude of actors primarily from the world of film. The Sopranos features several actors who were relatively famous in the film world, Lorraine Bracco and Frank Vincent to name a few. We can thank the show for opening our eyes to what the world of television is capable of, because without it, we might not have had Breaking Bad or any of the other fascinating tv series that exist because of it.

2. The Sopranos Aims to Please Everyone  

Perhaps the greatest appeal of the show is that it aims to please everyone. If there is someone looking for a humorous show, 
The Sopranos is for them. There are at least a couple of absolutely hysterical moments per episode. If someone is looking for a fun, crude, gritty and violent mob show that takes its cues from classics such as Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Casino, then they’ve come to the right place. Twenty-seven stars from  Goodfellas appear throughout the series in some capacity, and there are multiple nods to various mob films both in terms of the level of violence and profanity featured and the Easter eggs that are scattered throughout. But usually, that's where the mob stories stop in terms of genres, however that's not where The Sopranos stops.  

If there are people looking for more than a crude, violent mob story, then they also came to the right place. By having Tony in therapy, we learn about the psychological components that led to his criminal behavior and what circumstances have led to his panic attacks. Therapy is what makes the show become truly groundbreaking. It is the means by which the show is able to explore many complex, philosophical themes that heighten the show to levels that the other mob endeavors could never reach because they simply don’t explore such fully formed concepts.

The Sopranos - Photo from Facebook   Now available - The Many Saints of Newark

3. The Sopranos Had  Fully Formed Themes

I can’t recall many other shows that are able to juggle as many themes as this show does, without the result being confounding, thematically bloated or jarring. This series revels in complexity, telling a dizzying amount of stories about an enormous cast of characters and yet never feels out of focus, always managing to tie back to specific themes. By the time you’ve reached the end of the show, most of, if not all of the principal themes reach a satisfying conclusion as the puzzle pieces align and what could have been dense content emerges as concise and profound.

Another aspect that contributes to the shows’ fully formed themes is that one can often tell what direction, thematically wise, the show is headed in a given episode based on the characters who are emphasized. For example, episodes focused on the female characters, such as Carmela, Adriana, Charmaine, Gabriella, Rosalie and Angie, emphasize the difficulties of being stuck in a terrible situation. Such situations often include being married to or dating someone in the mob, how it controls every aspect of their lives and the reasons why the women often hang on are due to fear or the allure of a materialistic life. 

Episodes about those from the younger generation, such as Christopher, AJ, Meadow and Tracee, are often focused on Tony’s concern that they will be corrupted and follow in his footsteps and the general influence (negative in this case) that one’s parents have on their lives. Most of the other themes stem from Tony and his therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi. They include his concern that his family will be harmed in some way because of the nature of his job, the two lives he leads (life of his real family vs. that of his mob family), and the belief that there has been a decline in mob values. Others include his image of a tough guy (the strong, silent type), generational differences in the mob, Italian culture, the importance of the family unit and free will. 

4. The Sopranos Abounds with Emotionally Resonant, Layered Acting

Much has already been said about the phenomenal acting on the show and for good reason. For one, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role of Tony Soprano other than James Gandolfini. He put such an indelible mark on the character and mastered the wide range of emotions that Tony had with finesse and genuine adoration for his job. Even though I never met Gandolfini, I truly came to care for him like a family member during the course of the show, because of my respect for his resolve as a performer. It is for this reason that his untimely passing was all the more melancholic and unsettling. 

While Gandolfini was the lifeblood of the show, so many others brought the series to new heights with their performances, such as Edie Falco (the only one who could match Gandolfini’s level of rage) Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Drea de Matteo, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Nancy Marchand, Aida Turturro, Joe Pantaliano, Vincent Pastore and Dominic Chianese. These actors, as well as many more, all left an indelible mark on the show and for that, we must be thankful.  

5. The Sopranos Gives Jersey Folk an Extra Layer of Relatability 

The show may have been popular all over the country, but the experience just wouldn’t be the same for someone who doesn’t live in New Jersey. It's always fun to point out all the locations that you recognize because you have driven past them in real life. Additionally, the dialect is very specific to New Jersey and those who lived in other parts of the country would likely be lost by the variety of phrases and words used. 

I was born and have lived in New Jersey my entire life. I am proud to call it my home. I am an Italian-American who exhibits a sense of pride in his heritage and family and I enjoyed aspects of the show that went out of their way to dispel any notions that all Italians were from the mob. Yet, I have also loved mob movies for a long time. For these reasons the series is very relatable to me.

Well, here we are. All these words have been typed and yet, I don’t feel like I have even scratched the surface of why I love 
The Sopranos. So many characters have been left unmentioned, no specific episodes described and no iconic dialogue quoted. Yet, it will have to do. Rarely in life do things get wrapped up neatly in a tight bow. The Sopranos never liked to wrap things up neatly in a tight bow, I was never going to be able to wrap everything I wanted to say about the series into a single, cohesive bow and