We Review All Six Seasons of The Sopranos in a Relatively Short Post

1. The Sopranos is widely considered to be the best TV show of all time, but you already knew that, right? I watched all six seasons over the past few weeks; although I’d seen most of the episodes over the last decade, I was never a regular viewer, and I certainly didn’t evaluate the episodes I saw through any kind of critical lens. What follows is hardly an in-depth analysis, but rather my thoughts on the show. There are spoilers.

2. Tony Soprano is a vile character. Hard to relate to. He kills his friends and even family members; he lies to his family; he cheats on his wife. He’s a bad guy. He’s not a hero. He’s not an anti-hero. He’s both protagonist and villain of a series that begs us to identify with him, to see in him the expression of our own throbbing id. The gambit pays off at times, but over the duration of the series identifying with Tony becomes exhausting, painful, depressing.

3. I’ll go ahead and submit that I view the series as a study in existential nihilism against the backdrop of American-Dream-as-flow-of-capital. To put it in the series’ own terms, life is “all a big nothing.” In the series’ final scene in a diner, we’re reminded that the best we can hope for is to enjoy the “good times,” to focus on those moments of peace and happiness with our families. But ultimately, the series suggests nihilism, the “big nothing,” a void signaled in its famous closing shot of extended, abyssal blackness.

4. To be very clear, Tony dies at the end. I do not think that the ending is ambiguous. Any other reading is unsupported by the arc of not only the episode’s internal logic, but the arc of the sixth season, and indeed, the arc of the entire series. Any reading that allows Tony to live is wish fulfillment.

5. Pretty much everyone dies in The Sopranos. Again, “big nothing.”

6. There are lots of scenes of people eating sandwiches in The Sopranos.

7. The Sopranos is a commentary on and perhaps rejection of psychoanalysis as a mode of therapy, yet it uses the techniques of psychoanalysis to frame its stories.

8. The Sopranos is a Oedipal drama. I might submit that any drama about a family contains some kernel of Oedipal tension, but The Sopranos is formally Oedipal.

9. The Sopranos aired from 1999 to 2007. That’s a long time. When viewed successively over a short period, the series’ gaps and seams show prominently: characters appear from nowhere, story lines disappear, and key plot points often have to be explicated through clunky exposition.

10. A cultural value of The Sopranos: the series documents the Bush-era zeitgeist.

11. An easy criticism to make about The Sopranos: it’s ultimately an exercise in style and tone rather than plot and character development. Its themes and motifs build and simmer, but they are not enriched by this process. Rather, the series’ themes and motifs swell like thick plaster, obvious, concrete, depressing. Again, The Sopranos can only point to its own nihilism, to its “big nothing.”

12. The show is depressing. I mean, watching the show is a depressing process. It normalizes murders, lies, bullying, and violence—that’s pretty bad—but what becomes especially distressing is that the Sopranos are always fighting with each other. They are usually angry or sad. There aren’t really too many of those “good times”  to remember.

13. TVs are always on in The Sopranos, usually tuned to documentaries about war or war movies.

14. Some favorite episodes: “College,” “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano” (season one), “Commendatori,” “Funhouse” (season two), “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood,” “University,” “Pine Barrens” (season three), “Calling All Cars,” “Whitecaps” (season four), “Rat Pack,” “Irregular around the Margins,” “The Test Dream,” “Long Term Parking” (season five), “Join the Club,” “Mayham,” “Live Free or Die,” “Soprano Home Movies,” “Made in America” (season six).

15. For years, I thought that the Comorra enforcer Furio Giunta, played by Federico Castelluccio, was played by Brent Spiner, who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Looking at pics of these actors, I do not understand my previous confusion. This comment is in no way germane to this “review.”

16. I don’t know if I’ve ever hated a character as much as I hate Paulie Walnuts.

17. Chris Moltisanti, played by actor Michael Imperioli, is probably my favorite character on the show. He too is vile—a drug addict, a thief, a woman-beater—but he’s also tender and funny. Maybe I just like Imperioli.

18. Steve Buscemi’s run on The Sopranos was pretty great, although it was part of a trope that the series leaned on too often—the guy-gets-out-of-prison-and-now-what? storyline.

19. Buscemi directed what might be the best episode of the series, “Pine Barrens.”

20. It’s easy to forget or overlook or understate the impact that The Sopranos had on HBO shows in particular and TV shows in general, but that impact should be noted here. Its formal elements either influenced or paved the way for the superior shows Deadwood and The Wire. It’s hard to imagine Mad Men without The Sopranos.

21. The early episodes of The Sopranos look and feel surprisingly cheap, perhaps in part due to the heavy use of canned music and an emphasis on longer takes. Plus, the need for exposition and character grounding leads to a kind of clunkiness. These episodes compensate with graphic violence and nudity.

22. Lots of strippers on The Sopranos.

23. You could argue that The Sopranos is a study in patriarchy, in patriarchy-as-capitalism.

24. One of the major themes of The Sopranos traces how women attempt to find agency within this strict patriarchy, a patriarchy that repeatedly objectifies, dehumanizes, uses, and discards women. Carmella, in particular, seeks to find voice in freedom, and her plan to do so invokes, again, the American Dream—the accumulation and sale of property. The flow of capital is freedom.

25. As a way of closing, I’ll return to the series’ final scene, probably one of the most remarked-upon moments in TV history (I cringe now at having written the execrable and odious phrase “TV history”). For me, the ending is unambiguous—the cut to black is a POV shift into Tony’s consciousness at the precise moment that he loses that consciousness forever. The ending is neither cheap nor gimmicky, but a formal masterstroke that corresponds to the series’ overarching themes of nihilism. This nihilism perhaps prevents the series achieving the cohesion of, say, The Wire, an equally dark series that takes capitalism as its major subject. The Wire proposes struggle itself as raison d’être. The Sopranos makes no argument for that struggle, finds no honor or humanity in it, instead shifting philosophical emphasis to “focus on the times that were good” against the face of a “big nothing.” The end of The Wire is a beautiful montage that suggests that even though history may be cyclical, this fact alone does not foreclose human agency. It is difficult to call the end of The Wire “happy,” but the series conclusion nevertheless suggests generative possibility: there might not be space for the viewer in that particular world, but David Simon suggests that that world will nevertheless continue without the viewer. In metaphorical terms, it lives. The formal device of the cycle-montage at the end of The Wire would feel cheap or even hackneyed had the series not earned it by establishing its threads years in advance. The end of The Wire shows us everything; it gives us the future. It is big everything, the perfect end for a show that attempt to measure the everything of one particular place. Similarly, the final shot of The Sopranos is formally and thematically appropriate. It gives us that “big nothing” that the series has repeatedly promised is ours to collect. The black thematizes the profound moral failures of its characters and dramatizes the loss of enlightenment and moral vision that permeates the family members in the final season. It’s a clever, elegant, and ugly way to end a very depressing show.

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47 comments

  1. Damon · July 21, 2011

    “Nihilists!…I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

    I like the review. The series was undoubtedly depressing and I took issue with what I considered missed opportunities to tell better stories than the ones they ended up pursuing. That being said, the Steve Buscemi-directed “Pine Barrens” episode was a favorite of mine though I was furious that there was no resolution or reappearance of Valery (the Russian) that Chris and Paulie attempted to kill.

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  2. narwhalparty · July 21, 2011

    I emphatically agree with #19.

    Thanks for this!

    Like

  3. Jay · July 21, 2011

    I’d love to see you do this with The Wire and Breaking Bad. Speaking of which, do you watch Breaking Bad? If not, do so immediately (judging by your other tastes, I’m 99% sure you’d love it). Seasons 1-3 are on Netflix.

    Like

  4. a,b,c,d,e,f,g · July 21, 2011

    Could be this blog’s best post on here..

    Like

  5. ijustcantstopit · July 21, 2011

    I really enjoyed reading your summary of the series; there are plenty of final-scene dissections out there (which I avoided and yes, I’m pretty smug about that) but your post is unique in its coverage. I must admit though I still think there is a possibility that Tony went to jail that evening. Could it not have been a bust? In a way this could be a more depressing ending. Tony would see all of his crime-related income confiscated, potentially meaning no house for the family, no more BMW for AJ, and Meadow having to defend her dad in court (ok probably not).

    Anyway, I emphatically agreed with #15.

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  6. Yahom Yuhjam · July 21, 2011

    Nah. Tony doesn’t die. Saying that he dies is “wish fulfillment.” Watching the entire series’ arc, you’d realize that Tony’s fate could be many things: yeah, he might die, but he could also get busted by the feds, die of cancer, lose his mind to Alzheimer’s, etc.

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    • Biblioklept · July 21, 2011

      I think all the ideas you bring up that the series plays with are just forms of foreshadowing for the series’ final shot—the black void of Tony’s POV as Members Only Guy shoots him in the temple.

      Like

  7. Vinnie · July 21, 2011

    If it takes as much work to figure the ending out as has been suggested not only here but other discussions, why did we even bother with the series in the first place? To construct an ending that 99% of viewers do not understand is just plain selfishness. The average viewer will not understand the symbolism of cats, the name Rhiannon, or whole onion rings being eaten, and David Chase knew that. By ending The Sopranos the way he did, he may have satisfied his own artistic desires, but he failed to wow his viewers (you know, the ones who actually made the show a viable commodity, unlike, say, John from Cincinnati), and thus ultimately failed as a producer and director in the end. You don’t make a straightforward drama show (albeit with significant cerebral elements, but these are secondary) and end it so that only those paying attention to symbolism, subtle clues, and camera shots understand what happened. Perhaps some will disagree with me and argue that The Sopranos was really a cerebral show that used mob life as its vehicle, and thus the ending is spot on, but I find that difficult to fathom. Or is film meant only for those who have attended film school? For me, the first 85 episodes get an A+, but the final episode gets a D-, and that pulls the series grade down to a B because the final exam is heavily weighted. There is so much more that Chase could have done with the finale (and it didn’t have to be a slo-mo shot of Tony’s head exploding) that would have left viewers breathless and amazed.

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  8. Larik · July 21, 2011

    I think the ending was pretty great. And my favorite character was Chris with Tony as my second favorite character. It was a great series with HUMAN characters which is hard to find in modern day television where characters have 2D personalities, who have strict moral views that think in black and white. The Sopranos is anything BUT black and white. It uses all the other colors in the spectrum and pulls it off quite well.

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  10. Ron · July 21, 2011

    You have some good points and observations, but I don’t see how you can say that “the arc of the entire series” leads to an unambiguous reading of the ending. The series grappled, season after season, with ambiguities: we never find out what became of Valery in “PIne Barrens”; we never know with certainty whether Ralph killed Pie-O-My (the episode’s ambiguous title “Whoever Did This” reflects this uncertainty); in season Two, Melfi endorses Existentialism’s basic premise that there are no absolute answers; the title of an early episode – “Nobody Knows Anything” – supports the idea of uncertainty; Tony struggles with the most unanswerable questions of existence throughout the series, eventually giving voice to the questions in season Six when he asks “Who am I? Where am I going?”; there are countless more examples. The series, in fact, gently mocks those who seem to traffic in “certainty”: Pastor Bob who is certain that the Earth is only a couple of thousand years old is a ridiculous figure; we chuckle at Paulie’s certainty that mortal and venial sins can be paid off by serving a set number of years in Purgatory. The nihilism of the series, best expressed by Livia’s “its all a big nothing”, grows out of the uncertainty and ambiguity that is at the heart of the series – an ambiguity that Chase is faithful to until the final credits roll.

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    • Biblioklept · July 21, 2011

      Ron, I agree with you that the series thematizes ambiguity, and that the series’ nihilistic core is tempered in existentialism. When I argue that Tony’s death is unambiguous, I’m aware that in “real” terms, I’m absolutely wrong—the death is not shown or explicated in a direct, clear way. Still, I think the narrative logic of the shots/camera angles in the final segment of Made in America show us that Tony dies (the shot of Meadow entering is from his perspective, which immediately goes to a hard cut to black. In logical terms—by which I mean the logic of the plot, both of season six and all seasons, it seems pretty clear that Tony gets whacked. Everyone gets whacked. Chase plays with existential uncertainty as a sort of philosophical gambit, sure, but he also gives us the very clear reality of death as an absolute reality, an absolute certainty, again and again and again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ron · July 21, 2011

        It’s true that some camera angles/shots in the final segment seem to be from Tony’s POV, but just to clarify, the Cut To Black doesn’t occur directly from Tony’s POV perspective of Meadow – the reason why so many viewers thought they were looking at Meadow when the screen goes black is probably because of a bit of Pavlovian conditioning: the doorbell, which we come to associate with seeing people enter the diner, rings just before everything goes black. In actuality, the viewer’s gaze is on Tony when the Cut To Black occurs. Now, I would concede it is possible that the viewer enters Tony’s POV at the same moment a bullet enters his brain, but I would emphasize that this is only one possibility. I worry that a definitive reading of the ending (as many have offered, but few as persuasively or eloquently as you) diminishes a central thematic concern of the series – that of uncertainty.

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        • Biblioklept · July 21, 2011

          Ah, true—it is Meadow’s perspective. Interesting that I remember it the way I do. I agree that the final shot is intentionally ambiguous and that its effect is to leave the viewer with nagging uncertainty. Still, I can’t help but read the ending as the death of Tony (and, also, as I try to elaborate in my final point in the piece above, the death of The Soprano universe). It’s interesting that you bring up the death of the horse, which I never hesitated to believe was Ralphie’s work, but I can’t actually remember a scene that showed him doing anything. Just strong implication (but again, perhaps from Tony’s perspective).

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  11. John Krief · July 21, 2011

    “16. I don’t know if I’ve ever hated a character as much as I hate Paulie Walnuts.”

    Could you develop? Why do you hate this character so much?

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    • Biblioklept · July 21, 2011

      Hmmmm…I don’t know. I wrote this a few years ago. I think, over the duration of the show, he comes across as wolfish, predatory, but a survivor. He’s a better gangster than Chris or even Tony—less sentimental—but dumb. I’ve watched the stray ep here and there since writing this and don’t find him as repulsive as I penned. Maybe it’s his constant beef with Chris, who was, despite his many terrible faults, the character I most sympathized with on the show.

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  12. John Krief · July 21, 2011

    Hey, thanks for your answer! It just sounded so mysterious to me to hate Paulie that much… I though I may have missed something.

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  13. Raz · July 21, 2011

    I’ve just finished doing what you did – watching the entire series over the course of weeks. I enjoyed your list immensely, and identify with many of its points. Thanks!

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  14. Pingback: RIP James Gandolfini | biblioklept
  15. Luis · July 21, 2011

    DID TONY SOPRANO DIE? Here is the definite answer!
    start watching from minute 32 and then watch the last scene. what are the kittens looking at? DEAD MEN

    https://sites.google.com/site/aebatres/

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  16. Jon · July 21, 2011

    I’ve just done what you describe from a similar position of never having been a regular viewer and I agree with pretty much everything 100% except Paulie. Ultimately it seems to have been a somewhat depressing and empty experience, but I think the ending deserves credit for sticking consistently to that nihilistic theme when there must have been significant pressure and temptation to create something more upbeat or open ended.

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  17. BoBucks · July 21, 2011

    Interesting synopsis. I just have to comment on some of these as a huge fan of the series – I’m currently on my 4th viewing!

    2. I think Tony is an EXTREMELY relatable character. Strip away the literal actions of his deplorable crimes etc. and your left with a sort of everyman America kind of guy. He gets the paper every morning and goes to work. He greatly underappreciates his wife, hides things from her and lies to her in order to protect her, goes through a seperation with her etc. He’s turned out just like his father despite his best efforts. He treats his daughter like a princess and is unaffectionate towards his son. He has mommy issues. He’s not sure who his real friends are and who’s out to get him. Everything he’s ever done was to protect his family. Just like the rest of us!

    I’d even go so far as to say that Tony Soprano IS America.

    6. Case in point. What does America love to do? EAT. There are more shots of people eating (not just sandwiches) in the Sopranos than in any show I have ever seen. Tony is obessed with food. America is obsessed with food. It’s a deliberate correlation.

    11. I really have to disagree on this one. The character development on this show was absolutely phenomenal! I could honestly write ten thousand words on this one but I’ll leave it alone. Just think where some of these characters start out and where they end up. The most drastic examples being Tony’s kids coming of age, but believe me, every character has his arc. Especially Tony!

    Chrissy even spells out the concept of a character arc in a brilliant monologue from season one… “Where’s my arc Paulie!?”

    13. If there’s one thing America loves more than food, it’s tevelvison! Not only are TV’s always on, but in Tony and Carmella’s bedroom, their TV is literally up on a pedestal. As far as the war thing goes though, Tony has a thing for watching old war docs.

    14. You definitely nailed some of the best episodes here, although my personal favourite is “Employee of the Month”. When Dr. Melfi realizes she could have her rapist crushed like a bug, Tony asks her if there’s anything she wants to tell him… she looks dead at the camera and says, “No.” Powerful stuff.

    15. I can’t belive you thought that was Data! LOL

    16. I don’t know if I’ve ever hated a character as much as Tony’s mom! Or Janice! Or Ralphie Cifferetto! Paulie’s got issues though…

    20. I agree that The Sopranos paved the way for shows like The Wire, Deadwood, and Mad Men, but I still think Sopranos is the best show of all time. It’s my #1 with Wire in a close 2nd. I have to mention Six Feet Under also, which paved the way with realism before it.

    Anyways, I had a beef. Glad we could have this sit down and sort things out! ;P

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  18. Tiffany · July 21, 2011

    The whole series was fabulous in its trashy glory, badly written and directed but I loved it anyway. My husband lived in Brooklyn ten years, and in Manhattan six years, and he was sickened that The Sopranos was an extremely cleaned up, glamorized version of the wise guys world he dealt with. He refused to watch it with me, but I kept asking him, “How did they get away with so much murder? Where were the police? Why were they so DUMB?”

    What I can’t get over is the laziness of the production values. The layout of the Soprano kitchen, the standard refrigerator and the dumpy microwave is out of proportion to the grandeur of the rest of the house; only in the last episode is the refrigerator upgraded. And Edie running around her grand house, dressed up to the nines with jewelry and salon hair. I remember when poor old Beaver Cleaver’s mom was lampooned for wearing pearls while she vacuumed her carpets. I wonder if Edie’s glam housewife wasn’t a satire, but with so much of the series, un-intended satire was prevalent.

    Nobody deserved whacking more than awful Tony, but did anybody think the lights in the diner went out in the last scene? The last scene elevated Tony to heroism, the man who had the GALL to whack Pussy, another favorite character of mine.

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  19. Akhi · July 21

    Fuck you.. You should have given review instead of revealing some critical turning points here. U just spoiled everything. Damn man

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    • Biblioklept · July 21

      The title of the post very clearly indicates that all six seasons will be reviewed.

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  20. Nick · July 21

    Does Tony die? Enough people have weighed in on that, so I won’t add yet another opinion. What I find interesting about the series as a whole is that nearly every single character is vile, reprehensible, hypocritical and unworthy of our respect or admiration. Yeah, sure, if you try to forget for a moment that this is the mob, these characters look and feel like they could be us — arguing over the kids, eating sandwiches and having family parties, getting the paper at the end of the driveway in your bathrobe, etc. They even oftentimes manage to garner our sympathy. You momentarily forget their sins and get sucked in to their personal crises and troubles — when Paulie learns he has cancer; when Tony saves Anthony Jr. from his attempted suicide; when Johnny Sac tells his obese wife Ginny how much he loves her.

    But see, that’s just the thing: these people are NOT us, no matter how much they try to coexist among us, and no matter how much their problems might tug at our heartstrings. They’re all complicit in a cynical charade, in the ill-gotten gains of the organized crime life, in benefiting at the expense of others who they’ve robbed, beaten, intimidated, killed…and that includes Carmela, who turns a blind eye to Tony’s chosen career and chooses to luxuriate in the furs, jewelry, clothing and expensive toys in her nice suburban home, all a result of her gangster husband’s violent thuggery. Meadow too — she stands up to Tony occasionally, but ultimately caves in and never disassociates herself from Daddy’s mobster lifestyle. In spite of her volunteerism at the pro bono law center and her elite Columbia education, not only does she never evolve into an intelligent and independent enough young woman to finally acknowledge the truth about her family, but she actually devolves back into the stereotypical “spoiled Guinea brat,” to quote Carlo from The Godfather. She ultimately chooses to dive headfirst back into the pool of denial, getting engaged to Parisi’s son, thereby sticking with her own and not really learning anything.

    To me, even worse and more significant than the pervasive nihilism is the fact that almost to a person, these people have absolutely no moral compass. This is as much about morality as nihilism. They’ve so butchered and mangled the understanding of right vs. wrong that it’s hard to have any sympathy for any of them. They’re not nice people. And maybe the whole “it’s all a big nothing” is a sad by-product of people who are this selfish, immoral and hypocritical. Maybe people this nasty aren’t capable of embracing anything more than nihilism. Maybe they don’t deserve to understand or identify with anything better than such a dark, hopeless vision. I’d submit that it’s their own damn fault. None of them has made the effort to try to live a well-lived, moral life. None of them really cares for their fellow human beings. There’s no self-sacrifice, no genuine concern for others. Therefore, they don’t get to enlightenment, any damn one of ‘em. That’s their punishment. Don’t pity them for their existential struggles. They’ve done this to themselves – these greedy, ignorant, materialistic, violent buffoons.

    Sadder still is that the one person that you could argue genuinely tried to do the right thing — Adrianna — got crushed for her efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Jeff Glaza · July 21

    Hate the Sopranos much?

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    • Biblioklept · July 21

      No. I don’t think the idea that I “hate” the show comes through in the review, either.

      Like

  22. Akhi · July 21

    Why didnt they mention about the rapist who raped the therapists… All the time while watching rest of the episodes i was thinking may be now she was gonna tell Tony about the rapist and then take revenge.

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    • philipem1000 · July 21

      One of the few redeeming moments in the show are those where Dr Malfi makes the clear decision that she will not go there, will not fall prey to Tony’s Soprano seductive power in order to get her revenge. She is the only moral pole in the show; just about the only character in the entire show who consistently is human, vulnerable, flawed, yet clear on what is right and what is wrong. She probably hopes that her therapy will allow Tony to change his life, at least some, to become a better person. And as I say in my own comments, one of the things psychology does in the series is allow Tony to see who he is, what he does with people he cares about, and why. And when Tony does see we hope he will make changes (he does at moments), and then consistently regresses and chooses not to move toward his better self.

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  23. Sean · July 21

    While you undoubtedly have some quite keen and intelligent insight, I think you’ve over-analyzed the series as a whole. You knock the series for focusing too much on Tony Soprano, and for being morally corrupt and spiritually empty. At the the end of the day its a series whose protaganist is a Mafia boss. It’s a little unfair to denegrate the quality of the show because Tony is a morally bankrupt l, selfish piece of shit. You also negatively compare it to The Wire. The Wire is a sweepimg, epic study of the many aspects/reasons that lead to a “failed” American city, and the people that inhabit it. The Sopranos is more or less a charcter study. I also feel you strongly underestimate the quality of the writing. Its so hilariously dark and morbid at times, and if your from the east coast you’d know how well the writer’s nailed the tones and manner in which those kind of people actually speak. Each major chsracter has their own funny piccadillos and ecentricities, and you often catch yourself discovering a funny tidbit ot payoff that youve missed before.I love The Wire as well, and I often go back and forth as to which series is better written.

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  24. Sean · July 21

    While you undoubtedly have some quite keen and intelligent insight, I think you’ve over-analyzed the series as a whole. You knock the series for focusing too much on Tony Soprano, and for being morally corrupt and spiritually empty. At the the end of the day its a series whose protaganist is a Mafia boss. It’s a little unfair to denegrate the quality of the show because Tony is a morally bankrupt l, selfish piece of shit. You also negatively compare it to The Wire. The Wire is a sweepimg, epic study of the many aspects/reasons that lead to a “failed” American city, and the people that inhabit it. The Sopranos is more or less a charcter study. I also feel you strongly underestimate the quality of the writing. Its so hilariously dark and morbid at times, and if your from the east coast you’d know how well the writer’s nailed the tones and manner in which those kind of people actually speak. Each major chsracter has their own funny piccadillos and ecentricities, and you often catch yourself discovering a funny tidbit ot payoff that youve missed before.I love The Wire as well, and I often go back and forth as to which series is better written. But I reallydisagree with your assesment of The Wire and Mad Men as vastly superior bodies of work….Don Draper is great, but he’s no T.S….the fact that Don Draper is a chain snoking, skirt chasing booze hound who DOESNT CURSE, says a lot. AMC’s format handicaps it to a certain degree…their characters could never be as real, believable as an hbo/showtime format could allow

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  25. Josh · July 21

    Started Deadwood last night for the first time. How long before it zapped you and you couldn’t stop watching? Sometimes I like to have a general idea. The Wire took six or so episodes. Game of Thrones took almost a full season. True Detective zapped me immediately.

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    • Biblioklept · July 21

      I dunno. I liked it right away, but the episode “Unauthorized Cinammon,” which is late in the first season, really took it to the next level.

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  26. Peter · July 21

    I loved this review. I never understood why, after watching the Sopranos, I would literally feel depressed. Not for a day, but for much longer. I didn’t make the connection that I had grown to love non-existent people that were completely unlovable. I cared about them when they are incapable of caring, in actuality, even for themselves. Ultimately, all of their behavior is self defeating and comes from a place of self hatred and fear.

    It was Carmella’s conversation with Dr. Krackower that unlocked this for me. She understood clearly that staying involved with Tony was evil, and chose it anyway for comfort’s sake. Watching the Sopranos is ultimately a self depreciating experience for the viewer.

    You know how you know that the Soprano’s is amazingly written? Because you watch this soul destroying trash over and over and enjoy it. You know how you know that it tapped deeply in the collective truth? James Gandolfini is dead.

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  27. Geoco · July 21

    This is a second attempt to post – I just about 15 minutes worth somehow. I loved your review and agree with most of your points. Pine Barrens was one of my faves, and it also baffled me why Chase left that Russian’s thread hanging. As for Pauley Walnuts, I think I’m in line with your second take on that character. Yes, he’s cold, and a simpleton sociopath with a gun and a sense of entitlement. But having grown up in a mob-influenced Irish-Italian neighborhood, I found this guy entirely believable. The Sopranos main appeal for me is it’s success in depicting the life and times in this subculture. I think I know what Tiffany (actually her husband) means about the show appearing to be a “cleaned up” version of what her husband witnessed, but your experience around wise guys will vary greatly, and will having to be “Cleaned up” considerably around some capos and especially the boss. Anyway, the real motive I have in writing is to give my opinion on the one – actually two characters I had real difficulty with. The first one is Big Pussy. I found this guy very tough to buy, and especially the second time around, I had difficulty watching him. The guy’s personality is thorazine-flat and he comes off as completely self-obsessed, self-serving and lifeless, to the extent that I wondered how the other characters, no slouches themselves in the selfishness arena, could have such affection for him. The other character is a minor one, but an even bigger disconnect, Carmela’s mother (can’t recall the name). Are we supposed to believe this woman is Italian? There’s NOTHING italian about this lady! (And I thought she was great as the Jewish mother-in-law in Goodfella’s)

    A couple of other things, I missed how funny this show was the first time around. I think the writing and acting excels in this regard. Christopher’s intervention is one of the funniest scenes I’ve watched. Also just about any scene with Corrardo – especially when teamed with Bobby Bacala, sets a high standard of comedy!

    Finally, in a show overflowing with great characters and performances, a few stand out. Obviously Gandolfini is brilliant, and the show would not work at such a high level without him. What seems a little odd to me now though is I don’t see any of the other regulars as necessarily exceptional. Good, believable characters for sure, but I think the writing, more than the acting made it tick. But I did think there were some great performances rolling in and out of the show. Janice is a train wreck that makes you cringe watching her. I can say the same about Richie Aprile. Both great performances.

    One last thing that comes to mind – an exception to what I just said about the writing, is the dialogue among the Cousamanos’ and their social circles. These are intelligent and respectable members of the community that seem to have a adolescent fascination with OC and throw around F-bombs like penny candy on Halloween! What’s up with that? I thought it was uncharacteristically shoddy writing compared to the overall quality of the show.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Biblioklept · July 21

      Thanks for the thoughtful and analytic comment, Geoco. You’re right—Gandolfini’s performance anchors the show—although I do think the guy who plays Chris is also great, and some of the seasonal guest stars, like Joey Pantalone and Steve Buscemi, were excellent.

      Like

  28. Geoco · July 21

    Biblioklept, what’s your favorite comedic scenes in the Sopranos? Some of the funniest moments that come to mind:

    Junior turning the blender on and forgetting the cover
    Chris smacking Aide after she told him about Penn Gillette
    Paulie jumping scared at the psychic when the guy started talking to spirits in his vicinity

    Like

    • Biblioklept · July 21

      –A lot of the episode where Chris goes to the luxury suite.
      –The Chris Columbus conversation.
      –Odd moments of Pine Barrens.

      Like

  29. moradesh · July 21

    It is a bad idea (and very depressing experience) to watch the show over the course of 2-3 weeks = 3-4 episodes/day. When I got the boxset I watched 1 episode/day and that was a good pace. I imagine it would become quite tedious and dreary, more like a chore, to sit through 3-4 episodes a day for close to a month. The only type of show that might work for is a sitcom, but even still. I also consider Sopranos > Six Feet Under > The Wire, which I consider to be 3 of the best TV series ever made. Can you recommend any others that are up to the same or similar standard?

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  30. Feudal Yeoman · July 21

    I had a life when this “best TV show of all time” aired – but I’d heard the rave reviews, so I decided to check it out for free on Amazon Prime.
    Well, I’d accidentally seen Lilyhammer – so I could never get past Van Zandt’s horrible impression of a mobster. It’s like he’s doing some Andrew Dice Clay bit over and over and over again. But apparently he never gets killed off – so who is he related to exactly? It’s like they pulled him out of some vaudeville mobster act. The boobs on the strippers in the show were MUCH more realistic than that ass clown’s impression of a mobster.
    So I continued to watch it, hoping he’d die some horrible death – but nope, the good actors kept getting knocked off. Only there seemed to be no reason why? You say you hated Paulie – well, at least the guy playing Paulie could act. Anyway, Paulie just pops out of the inner circle into jail. See ya, Paulie? Good lord, PLEASE don’t give more lines to Silvio. Can’t he just go bang Janice and they get knocked off together? PLEASE? And WTF is even going on? At what point did the series even have ANY semblance of a plot?
    Anyway, glad I didn’t waste any more of my life on that horrible “best POS of every other lame POS”. I guess I’m lucky I had a life in NYC, where oddly enough I was occasionally hanging out with mobsters, whenever this horrible show “transformed” TV, if that’s what it did? I didn’t drop back into TV Land until the last season of Breaking Bad. I guess, by that time, the transformation had completed – because I HATE television. Other than the Andy Griffith Show, it’s always just been horrifically bad. But Breaking Bad was just insanely good, which is how I got “tricked” into watching the Sopranos.
    Then I broke from streaming it to watch Gravity (the movie) – and remembered why I usually despise anything and everything that causes “critics” to “rave”. They should have given Van Zandt Clooney’s part – at least I could have watched him DIE.
    Anyway, thanks for your brief review. I just typed in “The Sopranos Suck” into Google and landed here – it was the first hit that covered the entire series rather than the ending I’ll never see that everyone apparently hated.
    But you love TV – so glad you could get enough out of the POS to sum up why I should have never started watching it in the first place. And I have found that I’m depressed – but the show’s fault in that is only that it SUCKED. The Sopranos SUCK! It’s a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE show. NEVER WATCH IT! The Sopranos suck!
    Hopefully that’ll get you higher on Google for other people who might have accidentally fallen for the Soprano’s BS “best TV show of all time” bit. It’s most definitely not – it’s just a horrible show. But if it paved the way for Breaking Bad – thanks to everyone who watched the POS. BUT – who does this Van Zandt moron know in Hollywood? Since you love TV, I’d love to know how it is he ever got a part on the show – and how you could possibly hate Paulie more than his lame excuse for a character? Seriously, WATCH him – EVERY time he has a line, he pauses – it’s like he’s doing a horrible impression of Andrew Dice Clay’s impression of a mobster. God it was just embarrassingly unbearable to watch – like fingernails scraping a chalkboard GOD PLEASE STOP IT bad.
    And the show wasn’t much better. Also the chef was the only character with any heart – Chris was played by another bad actor who ruined any shot the character he played may have had of interesting me. But I thought Artie was exceptional – until he (for no reason) was suddenly in love with Chris’ fiancée, who got flipped by the FBI and then I quit watching because the Russian apparently wasn’t coming back to exact revenge.
    Thanks again for your review. And I really am interested in how this Van Zandt guy got ANOTHER show – whoever he knows, or however he’s connected – every aspiring dbag in Hollywood should look the guy up and try to follow his “path” to “success”. Apparently it works VERY well.

    Like

  31. Feudal Yeoman · July 21

    To be fair – other than Van Zandt basically ruining the show from the beginning – there did seem to be a cohesive plot centered around Tony and his Mom. Then she died – at which point the actress did a good job of annoying me as Janice, the heir apparent to replace the dead Mom.
    So I suppose it is a decent show up until the point that the Mom dies and Janice exits for the FIRST time. I’m pretty sure that’s the point where the series just drifts completely off any plausible course, with Janice re-appearing for no apparent reason to try to make me hate her some more. But I couldn’t – because it was completely implausible that Tony would allow her to return.
    Is there ANY chance that the case might be made that the Russian capped Tony? That MIGHT make me feel better for having wasted so much time sitting through Van Zandt’s excruciatingly horrible acting and all of the annoying helicopter plots.
    Also, did the ducks ever come back? Were they carrying Janice? Thanks again for your review.

    Like

  32. moradesh · July 21

    ‘Breaking Bad’ is wank. ‘Nuff said.

    Like

  33. philipem1000 · July 21

    I’m a few episodes shy of doing the same thing, never saw more than a part of an episode before though I have seen the final scene…
    I agree pretty much with what you have said but I interpret some things differently. A lot of things in the show can be seen as having multiple meanings. And the one thing that makes this a great show (I think Breaking Bad is much better tho) is that it really deals in symbols both implicitly and explicitly. The dream sequences alone are unprecedented. The use of psychotherapy is both an amazing tool to allow us to see parts of Tony we would never see and to reveal his ultimate bankrupcy. Tony has choices and the therapy shows us what they are, and he learns from his therapy things that he could use to change his life. He gains insight into himself, and he rejects the choices to make healthier changes in his life. And besides, who ever was psychotherapist to a mob boss? The story shorted that a bit I expected a lot of FBI visits to Dr Malfi and maybe a surreptitious break in…

    Food is an immense part of the story, it is a metaphor for culture and sex and corruption and Tony’s frequent eating and overeating are no accident. They suggest a man of both enormous appetite and excesses, and a man who stuffs his rage inside as does Tony, of course. Until it pours out of him naturally. People are made into food verbally to put them down. They are consumed all but literally and maybe that too.

    Tony is the protagonist and the show plays with our expectations. We expect even flawed protagonists to be people we root for and want to win. Walter White in BB is a perfect example. But try as we may we cannot ultimately do anything but dislike Tony. We expect somehow this is The Godfather Trilogy and Tony, like Michael, will in some way be redeemed, will show us something good and genuine. And the producers know we do, and they confound us to the end.

    We come to know that every time we see a ‘better’ side of him we will be disappointed. Kindness shown to anyone is sure to end badly.

    Indeed one lesson the story tells us, the way it is the anti-Godfather story, is that every person, good or bad, who gets involved with these people in any way ends up hurt.

    But while Tony’s life may indeed be a big nothing, the story does not tell us that’s all there is. It is Tony’s decision, and many others’ to end life that way. “What’re you gonna do” is the fatalistic mantra of the Mafioso…But I bet Carmela is doing well with her investments and Tony’s hidden money…his family has not escaped his abuse but they are better people than he was….

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Feudal Yeoman · July 21

    If the morons who wrote and produced that show put even a fraction of even one percent of what everyone here appears to be giving them credit for, then it would have been an awesome show.

    Like

  35. philipem1000 · July 21

    Oh and I have to disagree a bit with:
    7. The Sopranos is a commentary on and perhaps rejection of psychoanalysis as a mode of therapy, yet it uses the techniques of psychoanalysis to frame its stories.

    No one does Psychoanalysis as a method that I can recall. The concepts are thoroughly embedded in some of the storyline and certainly in the character arc.

    While Tony sure hates the role of mothers in Freudian analysis (but then who doesn’t?), and yes the story is VERY Freudian in its structure, but most schools of psychological thought dwell, with obvious reasons, on the family dynamic and its powerful tendency to be repeated in each generation. I don’t know that’s a rejection, seems to me the story shows he lives those concepts…

    I add that Tony rejects psychotherapy per se as being useful or having any point (but then pretty much everything in his life fits that category). Indeed for him it is not ultimately useful; because of his conscious and unconscious choices to stay unchanged even as it enables him to learn and see who he is, what his choices are; he toys with our feelings as we see, again and again, he has new insight, he employs it in some positive way, and then he rejects it in some horrific way.

    When Junior shoots him, we have a prolonged series of imagined and real events in which he sees the world anew, but it is at the end the same old Tony. Nihilism perhaps you are right. But it is Tony’s and his world’s nihilism that we tap into. I don’t think nihilism is the message we get for the rest of the world.

    But for Tony, I think useful means it brings him money or sex or some other primal gratification, and anything that doesn’t is really not useful. In his case therapy is the opposite of useful, it forces him to question the sufficiency and appropriateness of his primal orientation, thus he rejects it out of hand.

    Gotta say tho these writers did a stunning job of developing themes like this over the entire course of the show.

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