Just like the sudden finale of the last episode, James Gandolfini was sadly taken from our lives earlier this year and has since made me think of one thing; “…focus on the little things. Try to remember the times that were good.” It wasn’t until I saw Gandolfini act in something else that I appreciated how gifted an actor he was. I assumed he spoke like Tony, but in reality he seemed to be more like the humble Kevin Finnerty.
The first time I was introduced to Tony Soprano and his family was when I scraped together £20 to pick up the season 1 DVD from HMV in 2006. I’ll put it on the table now, I didn’t like them at first. Being a student who looked for action and cliffhangers like in 24, I wasn’t used to what good TV could be like just yet. I took a vacation from New Jersey for a brief period and returned to the final disc. The power cut at Vesuvio’s during the Soprano family dinner put it all into perspective for me from then on. One word loomed with me ever since; family. Just like Mad Men isn’t just about the sharp 60’s suits, The Sopranos isn’t just about wise guys squaring off.
Tony Soprano is a complicated guy; someone we can relate and not relate to at the same time. He has a family to provide for, bills to pay and worries about his legacy. He’s running a business (not the waste management kid) that is severely struggling to adapt to 21st century America. Then he also has the FBI and rival mobsters to watch out for and collections to be made. He is unique in the fact that he has two families to nurture and manage; his own and his illegitimate work one. Both highly demanding and with a very tight rope to walk on in between. As with any TV drama there are main characters that represent a different part of our psyches that we potentially relate to. Christopher is the frustrated youngster that’s hot-tempered and wants all the recognition now, there’s Paulie who’s the one of crew’s veterans who feels his limelight has gone, Artie who is frustrated by the seemingly lack of glory in an honest day’s work, and Carmella who is sometimes asking ‘what if?’.
Then there’s the therapy part. I always saw these scenes as a separate segment to show as it was a time for reflection, and Dr. Melfi didn’t have any real interaction with the rest of the cast. It would be interesting if all the therapy clips were compiled together and shown to someone who hasn’t seen the show before, and then ask for their interpretation of Tony. Coinciding with the therapy are he dream sequences. The most ambitious and powerful one was the Kevin Finnerty coma-induced dream after Tony was shot in season 6, which questioned themes such as, “where am I going?” and “who am I?”.
The show doesn’t hold back the punches either; there are some painful and shocking scenes to watch such as Ralph killing one of the Bing girls outside the club. Of all the main character deaths toward each season finale, Adriana’s shocked me the most, even more than Christopher’s. David Chase and his team really didn’t hold anything back. This show couldn’t have gone to a network that had to align with commercial breaks and advertisers for finance. HBO was its home and it wouldn’t have been what it was without it. It paved the way for other shows in a TV writing renaissance, and provided story and character arcs that cinema couldn’t offer.
I find myself going to pick up the Goodfellas or The Godfather DVD and I always talk myself into picking up this box set instead. Even years down the line since its finale, the family is the one thing I can trust that will be there. It has all of the humour, drama and achievements that runs in any family. Just like family, The Sopranos will never be replaced, and nor will James Gandolfini/Tony Soprano. Only imitated.
Here’s some of the stand out quotes for me from the series:
“No risk, no reward.” Season 6, episode 13.
“A wrong decision is better than indecision.” Season 4, episode 13.
“There’s an old Italian saying: you f*** up once, you lose two teeth.” Season 2, episode 6.
“Someday you’ll have families of your own. And if you’re lucky you’ll remember the little moments, like this.” Season 1, episode 13.
“The Autoclub? We change tires at our house. Watch and learn.” Season 1, episode 7.
“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Season 1, pilot.
“Well, when you’re married, you’ll understand the importance of fresh produce.” Season 2, episode 7.
“‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” Season 6, episode 15.
“Those who want respect, give respect.” Season 2, episode 12.