Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

June 11, 2007

The Sopranos: Made for the Last Time


On Sunday, America said goodbye to "The Sopranos," the most critically acclaimed series in the history of television, and also one of the most popular. Those two have combined to make it one of the most talked-about and analyzed cultural products in history. What have we learned from all that analysis? We're still sifting through it, and probably will be for years.


Just as Mario Puzo/Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" told the classical tale of American immigrant experience through the prism of the Italian Mafia, David Chase's HBO masterpiece applied that same prism to yuppie baby boomers, settling into middle age amid great wealth, but ruinous family dysfunction.


Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has written about the mob extensively, wrote in Slate recently that the third generation of Mafia families is when the rot truly sets in, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever watched "Growing Up Gotti."


Reams of newspaper and magazine articles and shelves full of books have been written about the series in the past eight years – with the New York Times even putting out a compendium of its collected writings about the show after the first season.


Book-length analyses have come at "Sopranos" from philosophical, religious, culinary and business/self-help angles. (Those latter two books – “Leadership: Sopranos Style” and "Tony Soprano on Management” – are especially mystifying. In his chosen profession, Tony Soprano gets to break the law and kill people. The average reader of the books probably doesn't enjoy that privilege.)


But ironically, it was blogs such as Matt Zoller Seitz's The House Next Door and Alan Sepinwall's What's Alan Watching? that hosted probably the best "Sopranos" discussion of all.


Then there's the question of the show's politics. Though certainly participating in all sorts of violent and sexual acts not likely to be condoned by the average Republican Iowa caucus-goer, Tony and Co. were so bound by the tradition of Mafia life that they clearly fall more on the conservative side of things. Chase even included such funny asides as Tony praising Rick Santorum ("that senator, Sanitorium") for his anti-gay stances, and Carmela reading Fred Barnes' Bush hagiography, "Rebel in Chief," in bed. However, the show also poked fun at know-at-all youthful liberalism, especially when practiced by Tony's daughter, Meadow.


In the discourse about "The Sopranos" there was the occasional blowup over whether the show and others like it "stereotyped" Italian-Americans as criminals, or "glorified" the Mafia lifestyle, with Chase himself clumsily inserting reference to that battle into the actual series on a couple of occasions.


The only thing more unsatisfying than this argument was the show's long hiatuses between seasons, which sometimes lasted as long as two years. "The Sopranos" is unquestionably the first dramatic TV show in history to air six seasons in eight years.


The show brought out the worst in some people, too. Just as they had with the "Godfather" movies and "Scarface" before it, many fans of the show sort of forgot, willfully or not, that the protagonist was a thief, liar and murderer, and treated him as more of a hero than an anti-hero. This led to an ever-prevalent attitude among viewers that the only reason to watch the show was to "see who gets whacked," and that if no one does, the episode was a waste of time.


This attitude was of a piece with the way the New York tabloids cover organized crime to this day: While criminals of various racial minorities are called "animals," "vermin” and even worse on practically a daily basis, Mafia figures are regularly treated with reverence, with the typical mob trail treating the witnesses as the villains and the mobsters – usually accused of multiple murders – as "gentlemen" being screwed by the government. When John Gotti died in 2001, the New York Post and Daily News covered it as though a president or pope had passed away.


But "The Sopranos" did great things as well. Despite a near-constant debate in later years over whether it had "jumped the shark," Chase's show was consistently the best show on television throughout virtually its entire run. And unlike any series since David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" in the early '90s, it took television to a level beyond anything it had ever reached before, and ushered in an era of classic TV unmatched in recent history. There would be no "Wire," no "Shield," and no "Deadwood" had there been no "Sopranos."


"The Sopranos" was a groundbreaking achievement in television that had so much affect on the culture that it may take years to realize its exact impact. But most of all, it was an entertaining, exceedingly watchable show that gained mass appeal for, essentially, that reason. And that will be its primary legacy.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS046. Request permission to publish here.