The Sopranos was a TV series broadcast on the premium cable network HBO for six seasons between 1999 and 2007. During its run, The Sopranos broke down several previously taboo barriers for television, racking up numerous awards for both its creator, David Chase, and several of its actors, including James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in their roles as Tony and Carmella, the heads of TV's favorite mob family. More than one critic has proclaimed The Sopranos as one of the best series of all time. The show continues in reruns on the A&E Network.
What made the show unique — and what has garnered it a following still going strong today — was the unique way Gandolfini portrayed its main character, mob boss Tony Soprano as a very conflicted guy. In addition to the usual mob plots involving hit men and wise guys, Sopranos episodes explored such mafia taboos as Tony's visits to a psychiatrist and how the boss dealt with issues like having a closeted gay man amongst his crew.
When the screen faded to black to the strains of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in 2007, the show may have died, but fans remain as devoted as ever. You'll find them on the blogosphere at sites like Sopranos Family Values and Sopranoland.
Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
Let me make something clear, before I go on. Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) in the season finale gave one of the most intensive, electrifying and emotional performances ever captured on television. My wife, who was never a big fan of the show to begin with, said Falco was so good, somebody unfamiliar with the show and the cast, would have trouble figuring out she was only acting.
That being said, the season finale as a whole was a 75 minute dud, and sincerely lacking in what fans have come to expect. That actually describes the entire season. The show just didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go at times, and as a result seem muddled.
The Sopranos took the popular culture world by storm. It presented us with the story of a top mob guy, doing his business while at the same time trying to balance it with his family life. Unlike ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Goodfellas’ where the kids and the wives were just background filler for the most part (I know, Diane Keaton and Lorraine Bracco had major roles but they were the exceptions), Tony’s wife Carmela and kids Meadow and Anthony Jr, aka AJ as well as Mom, all played a larger part. Tony had to balance all of that out, and through the first three seasons, his ‘day job’ was central to the story, while his family life (including his love affairs) played a secondary role. I am not downplaying his real family life. It was always important, but what it did was create a more complex and intriguing character (as opposed to Paulie and Silvio who are basically mob cardboard cutouts).
This season featured the return of Tony’s sister Janice, who had gone into hiding after shooting Richie Aprile in Season 2. Unfortunately, the character of Janice, while important in Season 2, offered nothing this time around. Her role seems to have been reduced to nothing more than the woman who attempts to bed all of Tony’s guys. AJ was virtually ignored throughout the season, but when they did write in something for him to do, the best they could come up with was him leading a seance with Bobby Bacala’s kids? And what about Meadow? Last time we saw here, she was an ecstacy consuming wreck at Columbia after catching Jackie Jr. with another girl. Now all of a sudden she’s a snooty Columbia student who lectures Mom on her latent homophobia. Does anybody really care about any of this? Better to just leave them out of it. And what was with these stupid dreams Tony was having? No explanation was given. They just appeared and with no significance from what I gathered.
As for all the ‘whacking’, that was never all that important. It was no secret that Ralph was going to last. The only question was when and under what circumstances. Anybody who thought Jackie Jr. would survive Season 3 was a fool, and fans also knew Pussy was going to bite the dust. The only surprise killing was that of Richie Aprile by Janice. There were some stand out moments. The “intervention” episode as Stephen Silver pointed out, was very good as was “Mergers and Acquisitions.” The scene between Furio and his lively uncle was just classic. However, there was a distinct lack of memorable moments from this season.
With regard to the season finale, it wasn’t the lack of anybody getting rubbed out that bothered me. For the first time, the people at HBO used a gimmick that is normally reserved for network television. While no major characters were killed off, they wanted to make us think it was going to happen. We saw two of Tony’s guys shooting into a black SUV (Gee – Chris just happens to drive one) and what could have been another SUV crashing. Of course, it turned out to be two nobodies. The hook was that something big was going down. It did, but it had nothing to do with what they were alluding to, and and as a result, The Sopranos had done what it had never done before and that was to insult the intelligence of its fans by using such a cheap ploy.
Word is, Season 5 will be the series last. There are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up, and it will be interesting to see how David Chase ends it all. Let’s hope he sharpens things up and bit, and let’s also hope that they don’t resort to cheap gimmicks in order to draw us in.