David Chase’s masterpiece The Sopranos captured the imagination of viewers unlike any series prior, drawing its audience into the seedy, criminal underworld of suburban New Jersey.
But while the #1 rated show on Rolling Stone’s Greatest list saw no shortage of conflict, betrayal, and violence expected from media of this genre, its iconic run was not driven by a rising crescendo of shock and awe like one may expect.
Instead, its eight seasons on air was more akin to a leisurely cruise along the Italian countryside. And at the end of the road, it’s the journey that is still fondly remembered by fans more than a decade after the series finale — however controversial it was.
Perhaps Tony Soprano said it best in the first season’s final scene, while surrounded by those dearest to him:
You’ll remember the little moments, like this, that were good.– Tony Soprano, S01E13
At its heart, The Sopranos isn’t a mob movie; it’s a show about relationships and human interaction. For all the exciting hits and tense sit-downs, we also see Tony struggle with fatherhood as he attempts to provide for both his family, and his
family glorified crew.
While the draw may be Tony Soprano’s mafioso lifestyle, when Alabama 3’s Woke Up This Morning fades at the end of the title sequence, it’s not just a hardened criminal we’re following. Instead, it’s the story of a working father of two, dealing with a dysfunctional home and work life.
This dynamic is clearly seen in Tony’s relationship with his uncle. Obstructing Tony’s ascension to the point of ordering a hit on him, Junior was the antagonist of the early seasons. However, Tony still maintained a relationship with his Uncle Junior through most of the series, approaching him for advice as well as ensuring that he was cared for.
Despite their rocky relationship during the show, Junior’s large role in Tony’s childhood, especially after the passing of his father, didn’t just disappear.
Like the dilemma faced by Frankenstein’s monster, how could Tony turn on someone responsible for his existence?
It’s these moments of vulnerability that allows us to relate to, and date I say, root for Tony.
The human side of relationships is explored again with Agent Dwight Harris. As an FBI agent tasked with monitoring mob activity in New Jersey, Harris despised Tony’s antics and after numerous raids, stakeouts and unannounced visits paid to his home, it’s safe to assume the feeling was mutual.
Although firmly on the side of the law, Harris’ character is more than just a foil. While originally positioned as the “good guy” in a show about some very bad people, we start to see the mutual respect both he and Tony hold for each other, as well as instances where they are more similar than different.
Eventually, Harris is transferred to another department and enters an informal arrangement with Tony to exchange information of New York mob activity for tips on potential terrorism cells in New Jersey.
It is during one of these meetings that we see one of the most human interactions in the show as Tony listens to his ex-nemesis struggle with marital issues remarkably similar to his own:
While they stand on very opposite sides of the law, the two men share the same fundamental challenge: to provide – both for their families and their livelihoods.
Orange Peel Beef
A more lighthearted example comes from the Season 4’s Whitecaps. In this episode, Tony deals with trouble within one of the New York Families, while simultaneously purchasing and subsequently attempting to back out of a property sale due to marital issues. But between these major storylines is one of the most memorable (and often meme’d) moments of the series: motherfucking goddamn orange peel beef!
Though not at all necessary to the progression of the plot, this decidedly human moment of random frustration allows the viewer to relate to Tony and remember that under all these larger-than-life issues is just a guy trying to navigate through life.
If The Sopranos were a gingerbread house, it would be made of gabagool and decorated with Benjamins.
Now I know the analogy is a little bit of a stretch (I needed to include the word gabagool at least once per Sopranos law), this is to say that for all its glamorization of the gangster lifestyle on the outside, the show is built on the little moments between its characters.
And while there are other films which showcase the American Mafia well, few explore the intricacies of human relationships better than The Sopranos.
Great, so you finished reading my piece on one of my favourite shows of all time.
What do you want, a boutonniere? ∎