If you are seeing this post at the Music City Mike blogsite, please know that it comes from a guest-blogging “draft” of favorite TV shows by a collection of ten fellow bloggers. As a “draft,” a show once picked cannot be repeated. Well, the luck of the draw gave me the second overall pick. Therefore, while I consider The Sopranos to be my second, not first, fave show of all time, I picked it first given that this incredibly popular show would likely not survive the first round.
Operating like a wise general manager of a pro sports team, I took the risk of saving my top choice for the second round since I have a good hunch it will still be available. Unlike our blogging collective’s previous efforts at drafting record albums, movies, and songs, I think that there also are some other shows in my top five that won’t survive the first round. I doubt that I will get the chance to pine about my love for Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The West Wing and Friday Night Lights, but I’m glad that I get to spin some of my thoughts about The Sopranos.
I must first confess that I did not watch The Sopranos in real time when it ran on HBO. Raising a young family and working on my business career at the time just didn’t leave enough room to view a regular TV series back then in those pre-binging days.
After hearing so much about the show, as soon as time became available (and before streaming was a reality), I bought the series on DVD (one season at a time) and binged it. I soon found myself loving every episode and planned ahead to make sure that I never ran dry of disks. I later renewed my interest in the show through snippets on YouTube which led to my inevitable re-watching of the entire series for a second time.
Of course, I know I am not in a minority when I rave about creator David Chase’s masterpiece. But folks, as remarkable as it is as the best criminal drama of all time, I can’t help thinking about how this show is a textbook example of anti-herodom at its extreme best where we find ourselves unavoidably rooting for the bad guys.
These characters steal, extort, sell drugs, and even worse, kill lots of people! But seeing things from the side of the evildoers in shows like The Sopranos and films like the Godfather series somehow finds us putting these things somewhat aside and living in their lifestyle. I’m not sure that I can completely explain why this happens, but I too was drawn in.
I grew up in New Jersey where The Sopranos is set and there was never any denial that organized crime existed. I’d seen it in action, thankfully not to the extent of some of the violence this show portrays. One thing that likely happens is that we get distracted by the virtues of their comradery and loyalty to each another and the riches they gather and enjoy. Can you believe that these guys even get away with having girlfriends that their wives know about and begrudgingly accept? We all somehow let these things overshadow the nasty stuff that goes on. Be honest, while watching The Sopranos, did you ever once hope that Tony got arrested and sent to prison?
And how about how these guys justify their lifestyles? They even attend Church and believe that they will still get into Heaven under their premise they are simply “soldiers” providing the world with necessary justice. They are not like other far worse criminals such as serial killers who they see as the really the bad people in the world.
What else attracts us to this show? In some ways, we share in family miseries together since the Sopranos (Tony, Carmela, and their two kids) have their ups and downs like the other television families we love to commiserate with. But Carmela’s woes are much different than Mrs. Cleaver’s. Instead of the Beaver being sick in bed with the flu, she worries instead about her husband getting “whacked” or if that knock on the door she hears is the FBI. The kids also eventually grow up to find that Dad really isn’t in the sanitation business and must come to terms with the once hidden reality of what he does for a living.
And then Tony, played by the amazing late James Gandolfini, has issues running his mob family just like some of us have problems with our jobs. In addition to this and the normal family stuff, he’s also got Mommy and Daddy issues as well as both marital and girlfriend problems. All this leads him to the brilliant character foil available to the writers though his recurring secret and “mobster-taboo” counseling sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, adeptly played by Lorraine Bracco.
The entire cast of characters in this show is simply amazing, and I’d feel remiss if I left someone out, so I won’t go down that road. I also don’t want to give too much away if you have yet to see the series. Not only are the shows well written as drama, but there are also so many funny bits that fans love to quote. (I can’t think about the “Joey Peeps” funeral without laughing out loud.) And if you are from, or wish you were from Jersey, there’s plenty of mouth-watering Italian food (including pizza, “gravy,” yummy desserts and everyone’s favorite “gabagool”), Sinatra and Springsteen references, as well as many familiar sites in the Garden State.
Then there’s the controversial series ending which I won’t give away. Dismissed by many as a cop-out, it took a YouTube video analysis for me to realize its true brilliance.
Recently, some 14 years later, we got the movie, The Many Saints of Newark prequel, which was great if you have seen The Sopranos but not so great if you have not. It was exciting to see these characters at a younger age and I’ll gladly take another movie to reveal more. I also know that I’m getting closer to when I will watch the entire series again for the third time.
The Sopranos is without a doubt the greatest TV drama series of all time. Taking advantage of the mysterious mobster lifestyle that draws us in, David Chase followed up with a perfect cast and brilliant writers to create some of the finest moments in television history. Maybe one day our blogger group can draft their favorite Sopranos’ episodes.
PS – One final thought that always goes through my mind while watching a show about mobsters. At the rate they get “whacked,” how did they all manage to live past their thirties!