The Sopranos is one of those shows my husband watched but I didn’t, since he had access to HBO while spending lots of time in hotels for work. He would come home and relate divers tales from the series for me, but it didn’t sound like my cup of tea. With the exception of Lilyhammer I’ve never been a fan of mobster entertainment- The Godfather puts me to sleep faster than unisom.
Yet needing distraction, when I noticed Amazon Prime offers The Sopranos I tried it out. I had no idea the show was so good. It reminds me of Breaking Bad, so much so that I’d be surprised if The Sopranos didn’t serve as creative fodder for Vince Gilligan. Both shows possess rich character development, quirky glimpses into crime worlds, quick story pacing and goofy, brainy humor. In that respect The Sopranos was definitely cutting edge for its time, premiering in 1999. While we now expect strong character development and deft plots from TV, up to that point it was rare if unheard of for a televised series to de facto mimic feature films (interestingly, The Sopranos was originally going to be a movie).
I remained mesmerized through the first few seasons, but put the brakes on binge watching because 1) I’d like to savor it and 2) I’m worried it’s going to jump the shark as did Big Love– what a disappointment that show turned out to be! The last season of Big Love was so boring it was unwatchable.
So here are my thoughts on various and sundry characters.
I’m not sure why Tony is so likable. Is it James Gandolfini who is likable, or the character? Granted, I’m no mafia movie connoisseur but I don’t think there’s ever been a “boss” character like Tony. He’s kind of dorky, a bit of a mush, and overthinks things. You almost get the impression that, had he been born to a different life, he might have been an English professor. [The theme of being trapped by the world you’re born into- mob related or not- is an ongoing motif of the series.]
I know she’s supposed to be smart and highly educated, but she comes across as braindead during the therapy sessions with her slow, breathy comments. I’m not sure what Tony sees in her. However the psychiatric context allows a convenient narrative “in” for Tony to disclose his inner workings.
Carmela is an interesting character. I didn’t like her at first but found her ardent faith in the Catholic Church, and her never-ending patience with Tony, touching. A remarkable feature of Sopranos is that it offers likable and multidimensional characters that go against the grain of what is typically offered by Hollywood. Carmela is unabashedly a “homemaker” and she’s displayed as such in an endearing light.
I don’t know if it’s the casting or scripts but Tony’s kids were a bust for me. Both AJ and Meadow rub me the wrong way and I think they would have been better cast with different actors. I know it’s always touch and go with child actors, especially if they have to “grow up” over the series, but the scenes including the kids are the weakest points in the episodes.
Livia Soprano is one of the more amazing characters I’ve seen on screen. As with the outlier of a positive housewife in Carmela, who expects to see an astounding old lady character on TV? Nancy Marchand plays the part beautifully as a dark, scheming, brutally pragmatic fury.
Another Hollywood outlier as far as characters go. A scrawny old man with bad glasses is a dark but hilarious entity in the crime world.
Christopher is by far my favorite character. One of Tony’s goons, he initially comes across as simplistic but as the show unfolds you realize his motivations and allegiances are profoundly complex. In a way he represents the crux between “old school” mobsters and the modern world. This is another concept repeatedly brought forth in the scripts, and not only in relation to the criminal element: the decline of society from a traditional, conservative system to a politically correct quagmire lacking decency or boundaries.
I know food isn’t a character, but it may as well be on Sopranos. In addition to constant product placement, sumptuous Italian meals seem to appear in every other scene, with characters wolfing it down in between dialogue. I had to wonder- if many takes of each scene were necessary, were the actors basically eating nonstop during filming? I know during food commercials actors will spit out food in between takes, so they don’t get sick (I knew a lady who did a banana commercial. She spat out an entire bucket of bananas over the course of a day) but these guys are actually eating. No wonder poor James Gandolfini gained a ton of weight! As good as Sopranos is theatrically, it also serves readily as food porn. There had to have been culinary consultants for the show.