Review of The Sopranos (1999)
Seen in 2013.
A balancing act of the brows. On the one hand, it’s a comedy centered around the ethnic stereotype of the trashy, semi-literate, Tony Lip-style Italian-American mafioso, with pop-culture references (albeit rarely current), violence as entertainment, and the common, myopic drama of the nuclear family’s tensions amid the boobs of a New Jersey strip joint. You’re expected to root for the horrible murderers, not the FBI, because you see the relatable problems in their private lives and hear them talk about “honour”.
These elements in themselves hold no promise, but the show uses them maturely. Organized crime here is often horrifying and affects the innocent, as it does in reality. Cogent analyses are made of sociopathy, pervasive hypocrisy poisoning all the talk of honour, and the psychology of denial among perpetrators, their complicit loved ones and their therapists. Tony Soprano, for all his impressive social skills, his cunning and his ability to will himself to do what needs to be done, is not shown as a hero “fated” to enter the wrong line of work. He is allowed to remain a despicable protagonist until the end: a rare feat in television.
For a hit TV show, there is an amazing amount of geriatric health issues and other “depressing” memento mori motifs. These help elevate the family drama to the highest standard. The fact that the children age naturally, 10 years from start to finish, helps a lot. I expected the show to weaken over the years, and it may have a minor slump in the middle seasons, but the ending is apt. The casting, acting, cinematography and soundtrack (in this case, the choice of pre-existing tracks) are excellent. Some of the DVD commentary, such as writer Matthew Weiner on season 6, episode 7, demonstrate the care that went into the foundations of the show.