Just 10 of the hundreds of things we miss about The Sopranos…
1. The Writing / Direction
Each Sopranos episode felt like a fifty minute movie such was the strength of visual style, narrative arcs, characterization and performances. Has another show nailed it in such cinematic fashion before or since, week in week out?
From crisp dialogue, to innovative sequences with plentiful of subtle Mise-en-scene and classic film homages, to a soundtrack at times to die to (literally in some characters cases!). Often it would all come together in single scenes to striking effect none more so than Christopher’s death at the hands of Tony.
As the show creator David Chase surrounded himself with a tour de force of directing talents (Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, Allen Coulter and the late John Patterson) and immense writers (Terence Winter, Matthew Weiner, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess) whom have now gone onto stamp their own marks on some of the best new serials across cable (Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Blue Bloods and Game of Thrones).
2. The Guest Stars
What The Sopranos did so well was bring in great character-actor guest stars;
Burt Young in ‘Another Toothpick’ as the wheezing dying hitman. John Heard as drunk self-loathing cop Vin Makazian. Steve Buscemi as the ‘trying to go straight ex-con’ but ultimately violent Tony B dooming himself through his personal code of honour, and not forgetting Frank Vincent’s violent intent as Phil Leotardo ‘the Sopranos are nothing more than a glorified crew. Plain and simple. We decapitate and we do business with whatever’s left.’
The list of guest stars that nailed their roles without affecting the balance of the serial is endless. Special mention should go to David Lee Roth playing himself in a card game stating that he used to be able to put condoms on expense accounts!
3. Tony Soprano
Tony Sopranos is a despicable paranoid violent man whom –
a. Cheats constantly on his wife (to quote Christopher ‘you and your midlife crisis you’d fuck a catchers mit!’).
b. Kills colleagues and loyal good earners without a second thought.
c. Constantly lies to his family and business associates alike as well as bullying them for his own ends.
d. Either wants to kill or fuck his own mother, perhaps both!
e. Can’t take rejection of any kind especially from women.
f. Uses his psychiatrist suggestions from private sessions to avert his power in both business and family issues.
But for some reason we can’t help but love and cheer for Tony Soprano every episode!
Why? In no small reason James Gandolfini’s performance allows us to live, breathe and fuck as Tony. One hell of an actor to get us to yearn to be someone whom is so vile!
4. Paulie and Christopher’s Feud
Some of the funniest and most striking episodes involve Paulie and Christopher teamed together like a fucked up Batman and Robin! Together their feuding and making up can be traced as its own separate arc throughout the six season run.
Like brothers in crime killing Mikey Palmice ‘I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano’. At each other’s throats after Christopher gets ‘made’ and Paulie feels marginalized ‘Fortunate Son’. About to kill and betray one another to hysterical effect in the all-time classic episode ‘Pine Barrens’. Verbal spats during Christopher’s intervention ‘The Strong, Silent Type’. To one up-man-ship over who’s paying for the dinner tabs ‘Two Tony’s’. The final feud leads Christopher back down his self-destructive path ‘Walk Like A Man’.
These two were always great value – they loved, hated but always had one another’s backs in equal measure. At times such comedy was followed by the most shocking killings in their lives. A violent Laurel and Hardy!
5. The Dream Sequences
These were a psychiatrist wet dream full of multiple meanings and hints at what’s to come;
In ‘Isabella’ Tony confuses his medication dosage and hallucinates conversations with Isabella carrying the deep rooted meaning that his mother wants to kill him! With ‘Funhouse’ Tony’s food poisoning is the catalyst for what he has been refusing to admit that Pussy is an FBI informant. Then in the bravest dream segment of all ‘The Test Dream’ practically half the episode is a dream sequence within a dream sequence within a dream sequence – warning Tony of his cousins’ actions and that he is ill prepared for the fall out.
From this moment on I started to analyse my own dreams but they were never as exciting and intricate as Tony’s!
6. Adriana La Cerva
Any shot of Drea de Matteo in underwear is going to be sorely missed from any show! But there was more to this sexy tough talking New Yorker as the seasons progressed.
When she became part of the FBI’s growing ‘RICO’ case against Tony we really felt for her. The stress was so much she became torn both inside and out, literally! (Irritable bowel syndrome!) Her reveal to Christopher is among the series finest acted moments. And her death to this day is still sad, shocking but inevitable.
Plus I will say again – Drea de Matteo in underwear…
7. Uncle Junior
The ‘lighting rod at the top’ as he was once described ends up stroking a cat with his false teeth stolen left in complete senile dementia staring out of a broken window – what a story arc!
Starting off as an antagonist to Tony, Junior feels hard done by ‘forever the bridesmaid never the bride’. But Junior develops into something off a father / advice figure for Tony, whilst always keeping his options open. Uncle and Nephews relationship is constantly merged with love, confusion, respect and paranoia. The sadness in Tony’s face when he visits Junior one final time ‘Made In America’ for-shadows those earlier words ‘his dead to me’ as poor old Uncle Junior has passed away in all but body by this point.
Dominic Chianese’s performance is comical, clever and Shakespearean in its tragic arc.
8. Tony And Doctor Melfi’s ‘Chats’
Tony would speak his problems without trying to reveal any illegal activities. Doctor Melfi would listen annoyed that he can’t ever be honest but also turned on by this man… this disgusted her even more!
They would debate the world as we know it. Sometimes Tony would get violent. Other times Melfi would all she could to discourage him being a client – only to suffer guilt complexes afterwards and take him back.
In many ways this is the un-forbidden and unrequited love story of The Sopranos, like Romeo and Juliet – the love affair that can never be… Plus who can forget in one of Tony’s dreams he sits in her office with a huge erection whilst chatting to her!
9. New York vs New Jersey
The simmering tensions between the two families are felt as far back as Season 4 with the refusal to budge over a real-estate deal. Season 5 is when it develops fully with the always charismatic and superb Johnny Sack (freshly released Phil Leotardo as his enforcer) goes to war with the idiotic Little Carmine for control of New York. Tony cleverly wants to pick up the scraps but instead his family become the instigators as his cousin runs wild ‘of the reservation’ causing ramifications that will mean the death of many characters all the way to the very final series episode ‘Made in America’.
The interesting thing is Tony actual fears New York – knowing he’s outnumbered, one of the few times we see the great man having to bow down and attempt to kiss arse to save face.
When the pragmatic Johnny Sack dies he knows it’s only a matter of time before Phil Leotardo unleashes all that pent up anger from twenty years in jail and his brother’s death.
The financial chess game between Tony and Johnny was always a joy to watch. But with Phil it was only ever going to end one way. Money speaks in the end and even his own men realized Phil was out of touch – the simple fact being if men are on the mattresses then they aren’t earning.
10. The Season Finales
I always used to count the finales as two parts such is the cinematic way they played out – with the penultimate episode part 1 and the final episode part 2. Arcs would be closed, they didn’t need cliff-hangers for cheap effects, but new questions would be brought up and potential new roads to go down to lead into each new season.
As for the final episode ‘Made in America’, well, it divides opinions to this day. Is Tony whacked? Are we the audience whacked? Is Tony forever living in fear of ‘the next person’ through the door? Everyone has opinions and that’s what good TV serials are all about.
We miss you Sopranos.