'The Sopranos' Debuted 20 Years Ago Today
January 10, 2019 9:03 AM   Subscribe

 
Alan Sepinwall was live tweeting the 20th anniversary reunion panel yesterday, and this quote especially struck me:

Annabella Sciorra recalls working with Gandolfini. He made her feel safe, would tell her where he was going to put his hands, asked if that was okay. “And that’s very rare.”
posted by blithers at 9:16 AM on January 10 [20 favorites]


For a while this was also one of the go-to shows for NYC-area actors looking for work as an extra (the LAW AND ORDER franchise was the main source, but this came in second, and I know an actor who made such a splash with his one bit role in one episode that they brought his character back for 2 more episodes; the guy played Tony Soprano's football coach, I believe).

An actress in a show I did once was regaling us with tales of what the audition room was like for Sopranos - there was one weekend a year or something like that where all the actors looking for parts as extras would go and strut their stuff for the show's casting office, and the office would just keep notes on everyone and tag people as the need arose (that's pretty common).

This actress said that what struck her was that while all the usual NYC actors were there waiting to take their turn, the show's casting call had also drawn "a whole lot of guys from Jersey who had no necks". One of them, she said, seemed to be new at the game, a regular-guy who'd just responded to a call for hopefuls and was trying to break into the biz; he was talking a lot with the other hopefuls, she said, "and at one point he actually literally said 'bada-bing, bada-boom', and I didn't think anyone really said that."

....History does not record if Mr. Bada-Bing Bada-Boom got cast in anything ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


This Vulture article, "Does Tony Live or Die at the End of The Sopranos?" is an excerpt from Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall's new book The Soprano Sessions. The book looks really good.

I think about the Sopranos almost every day. The show explored (or satirized) so much: the materialistic aspirations of the middle class, marriage dynamics, parenthood, old age, the exploitative culture of work and of capitalism, boardroom politics, interpersonal dynamics between men, racism, the status of women, psychobabble.

Such a great series.
posted by JamesBay at 9:33 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


Interesting theory on the ending:

@TJQuinnESPN: Tony didn't get whacked, we did.
posted by mazola at 9:33 AM on January 10 [11 favorites]


Tony didn't get whacked, we did.

Great analysis. Makes total sense.
posted by JamesBay at 9:37 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]



"I think about the Sopranos almost every day."

I do too.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:46 AM on January 10


I like Quinn's analysis up until his conclusion. Doorbell rings > We see Tony's reaction to the doorbell > Switch to Tony's POV. That pattern repeats throughout the scene. I see what Quinn is saying about OUR view of the scene goes black, but if you follow the pattern established with the camera shots, that black screen is Tony's POV and not ours.
posted by emelenjr at 9:47 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Me three. Hell, I think about Kevin Finnerty almost every day.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:04 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


I like Quinn's analysis up until his conclusion. Doorbell rings > We see Tony's reaction to the doorbell > Switch to Tony's POV. That pattern repeats throughout the scene. I see what Quinn is saying about OUR view of the scene goes black, but if you follow the pattern established with the camera shots, that black screen is Tony's POV and not ours.

Maybe. It seems like you are saying that the scene cuts to a black screen which, in the pattern established by the editing, should be Tony's perspective and not ours. But what if the black screen is meant to be the same shot, only black, rather than a cut to different shot?

I rewatched the scene just now and I feel like the tempo established supports Quinn's take. The shot of Tony, reacting to the doorbell is quick and then done. I feel like it goes to black earlier than the shot would have if it were going to cut to Tony's POV. It's out of rhythm and jarring. It feels, to me, like the POV, our POV, is what is cut short.
posted by gauche at 10:05 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


gauche, I actually agree that the rhythm is slightly off and the cut happens sooner than it should. I can't believe I'm coming around to the "we got whacked" interpretation so easily, but I think there's one detail not mentioned in the Twitter thread that actually drives the point home: We don't get to hear any music over the end credits.
posted by emelenjr at 10:21 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


I mean, it is totally open to interpretation and I'm not saying that I'm 100% on the theory either, but I thought it was a fun exercise. And your point about the music is also interesting.
posted by gauche at 10:27 AM on January 10


In some ways it's crazy that David Chase has only made one film since the Sopranos ended, and in another, well, maybe he just thought "I've contributed enough"?
posted by gwint at 10:35 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


That's the first explanation I've ever heard that makes me like the ending just a little bit.
posted by M-x shell at 10:40 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


The "did Tony get whacked or not?" issue misses the point. Whatever the outcome of the diner gathering, Tony's story is over.

Over the course of the series, particularly in the final season, he was offered numerous chances to change his life, which ultimately, he refused. He turned away from personal transformation, ultimately cutting off his therapy, which was the driving theme of the series. He embraced his role as a mob boss, winning a Pyrrhic victory against the New York crew (Silvio's not coming out of his coma, and Paulie's on course to betray the Jersey crew one way or another). Similarly, stories of the rest of his family are over, Carmela, Meadow, and AJ having all decided to stay with Tony, to the end.

Whether Tony spends the rest of his life looking over his shoulder while putting up the facade of a family man or winds up whacked, face down in a plate of onion rings, Chase's message is the same: The show's over, turn off your TV.
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:51 AM on January 10 [16 favorites]


@TJQuinnESPN: Tony didn't get whacked, we did.

Not that it really changes his analysis but the last episode title was "Made in America" not "Members Only"
posted by cmfletcher at 11:01 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I think Tony got whacked. When Christopher Moltisanti, (Michael Imperioli), became a made man, the first thing he did was go out and buy a Members Only jacket. The lone man sitting at the bar in the last episode (many seasons later) was wearing a Members Only jacket. I rest my case.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:13 AM on January 10


I came to the same conclusions as Doktor Zed. While arguably the series went on too long, there was nothing more to say.
posted by JamesBay at 12:04 PM on January 10


Whatever the outcome of the diner gathering, Tony's story is over.

Over the course of the series, particularly in the final season, he was offered numerous chances to change his life, which ultimately, he refused. He turned away from personal transformation


This is very much where I wound up after too many years of thinking about the show. The ending is a Schrodinger's Box, but it doesn't matter if we lift the lid and find Tony dead or alive. Alive, he's a mob boss with a family who have all made their peace with who and what Tony is, and Tony will continue being Tony. If we open the box and find Tony dead in his onion rings, well, what's next?

The cut to black wasn't about if someone died, it was about the fact that the story was done and we were cut off from seeing anymore because there was nothing left worth saying.
posted by nubs at 12:08 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I like Quinn's theory.
Made in America... it's like audience is the Pesci character in Goodfellas, figuring he's going to be a "made man", but ... no. The audience (us) have been with Tony & company so long we feel like part of the family, but ... no.
posted by chavenet at 12:12 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The "did Tony get whacked or not?" issue misses the point. Whatever the outcome of the diner gathering, Tony's story is over.

This is how I interpret it, and I’ve never really cared about the factual outcome. Tony is dead in all the ways that matter, only one of which is the death of his body.

What I always liked about the cut and its abruptness was the sense of disgust it conveys, and how perfect it was to save that level of explicit judgment (which I’m pretty sure is never really something that happens with the editing at any point before in the series) until the very last scene.
posted by invitapriore at 12:31 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


The "did Tony get whacked or not?" issue misses the point. Whatever the outcome of the diner gathering, Tony's story is over.

This this this. That's always how I've thought about it, more or less. It's a very difficult position to argue, though. People tend to focus on cinematic analyses of whether or not he was whacked, which usually winds up with me somehow-almost-arguing that he wasn't whacked - because the people who believe he was are often quite convinced of it, so my natural reaction is to try to poke holes in that. But I don't really think he definitely was not whacked; I think it was deliberately ambiguous. The ambiguity is the point.

Two other points to reinforce this:

-I don't think it's just that Tony's story is over in the narrow sense that the show is ending. It's that the noose is closing around him, even if that guy in the diner doesn't shoot him, probably someone else will, or the Feds will get him, or maybe he'll crack and go into witness protection. It almost doesn't matter whether or not he is killed in that scene, because the jig is up.

-Life will go on for everyone else, with or without Tony. I think that's what's implied by the use of "Don't Stop," that Carmela and Meadow and AJ and any of the other still-living characters will have to continue to make their way with or without him and the world will just keep on spinning.

I love the ending of The Sopranos, it might be my favorite ending for any TV show ever. I also like ambiguous endings - especially in fiction that aims for realism - which is pretty clearly not a majority view. So my default has always been to embrace the ambiguity and interpret that aspect of it rather than trying to analyze what it means when Tony looks up at Members Only Guy.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:22 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


The Sopranos evolved so much and is now so defined by its ending that it feels beside the point to talk about the anniversary of its first episode.
posted by smelendez at 8:01 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


My hubby is watching HBO’s current marathon. I would love a show with the same level of acting & writing but not relying on lazy tropes like all the extreme violence. It set a precedent for really high quality shows about violent sociopaths who pretend to be mild mannered parents. There must be some other thing you could have the characters do for work and still think of interesting things for them to say. Surely?
posted by bleep at 9:36 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Tony is dead, what I want answered is if Carmella, AJ and Meadow got hit as well?
posted by PenDevil at 12:08 AM on January 11


There must be some other thing you could have the characters do for work and still think of interesting things for them to say. Surely?

What a strange complaint. There's massive amounts of quality television which doesn't involve gang violence. It's not as if shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire were the only decent things made in the past twenty years.

Tony is dead, what I want answered is if Carmella, AJ and Meadow got hit as well?

Almost certainly not. Uninvolved family members are usually not included in a mob hit. One of the few rules most mobsters, at least of the old school variety, usually observed. For very good reasons.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 1:09 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Almost certainly not. Uninvolved family members are usually not included in a mob hit. One of the few rules most mobsters, at least of the old school variety, usually observed. For very good reasons.

True, but Tony was killed after the truce was declared, so I'm guessing all "rules" were not in effect.
posted by PenDevil at 1:41 AM on January 11


It had some genuinely poor episodes in its run but overall it was a milestone (not least for that ending) and '"The guy was an interior decorator." "His house looked like shit."' is one of the funniest bits ever.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:33 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's just that Tony's story is over in the narrow sense that the show is ending.

I think it's the reverse, actually - the show is ending because the story of Tony's struggle is over. Over the run, we watched Tony have his opportunities to change course, and in the end it was clear that he was committed to the life; and those closest to him were going to be ok with it. The Sopranos was about that family having their chances to be something else, and eventually not doing so. It wasn't "everytime I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in"; it was "everytime I could get out, I put myself back in". Once that choice is clear, that Tony is going to be what he is and the desire/potential for change is gone, there's not much left to say a far as a story goes, because that question was the core of it.
posted by nubs at 8:03 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I think it's the reverse, actually - the show is ending because the story of Tony's struggle is over. Over the run, we watched Tony have his opportunities to change course, and in the end it was clear that he was committed to the life; and those closest to him were going to be ok with it. The Sopranos was about that family having their chances to be something else, and eventually not doing so. It wasn't "everytime I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in"; it was "everytime I could get out, I put myself back in". Once that choice is clear, that Tony is going to be what he is and the desire/potential for change is gone, there's not much left to say a far as a story goes, because that question was the core of it.

I 100% agree, but I don't really think this contradicts my comment. One of the things I love about the ending is that it meant a lot of different things. And one of the things I hate about the "was he whacked?" debate is that it kinda brushes past that.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:44 AM on January 11


Then we are in violent agreement I guess. I'm kinda wishing I wasn't at work right now because I want to go and rewatch Pine Barrens, another episode that delighted me for its ending.
posted by nubs at 8:51 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Uninvolved family members are usually not included in a mob hit. One of the few rules most mobsters, at least of the old school variety, usually observed. For very good reasons.

Not to pick on anyone in particular, but I think this mastery of minutiae by fans is one thing that supports the thesis that "it was the viewers who got whacked in the final episode, not Tony."

Because, like Agent Harris, it was so easy to identify with Tony Soprano and internalize the rules of his world, and forget about what a monster he was. Which is probably not what David Chase wanted at all.
posted by JamesBay at 8:58 AM on January 11


There must be some other thing you could have the characters do for work and still think of interesting things for them to say. Surely?

I wish there were novels out there that were as good as the Sopranos at deconstructing middle class life and middle age. But there are not.

I do think the weak point of the series was its portrayal (or use) of African Americans. They are the Other and are essentially used as props.

Women were also frequently used as props, such as the naked dancers at the strip club. And then there was the unspeakably brutal and sexually violent character arc of Tracee, Ralph's "girlfriend". Those episodes are pretty disturbing to watch, although, once again, the stark comparison between how Tony regards Meadow's aspirations and how he regards Tracee is very insightful commentary on how American society can view young women.
posted by JamesBay at 9:03 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm still astounded by the way the whole series felt unwritten/unplotted, like it was just a bunch of life happening the way it actually does. No multi-season arcs, no intricate plot devices, no puzzles for the viewers to solve between episodes (and NO the ending was not a puzzle), just every character working their own shit out in real time. Almost unbelievably tropeless, especially for a Mafia show. E.g., Pine Barrens *not* becoming a Chekov's Gun.

Not even The Wire could reach this level of naturalism.
posted by whuppy at 9:26 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Television Learned the Wrong Lessons From The Sopranos [Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic]
"There is plenty of great academic writing about The Sopranos, and much brilliant, unsung criticism. But the legacy of Sopranos-crit is of a genre almost exclusively manufactured by men, for a male readership, about the nerdy nitty-gritty of a TV show about masculinity. This has contributed, I think, to a new culture of television-making dominated by psychological portraiture, usually focused on men. It has also led to hyper-lush production, at the expense of scriptwriting, simply because it’s easier to throw money at a show than to write a good one.

This is the danger of allowing superfans to define the meaning of a television show. Though they may know The Sopranos better than anyone, they may end up taking away the wrong lessons. In the end, neither Paulie’s weird hair nor Tony’s panic attacks represent the core of what was good about The Sopranos. Instead, the show’s pedigree lies in its handling of a few words, here and there—an old man in an armchair denouncing 'disharmony.' The joy of watching a Sopranos patriarch comes not only from his easy authority, but also from the language he uses to express it."
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:11 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


But the legacy of Sopranos-crit is of a genre almost exclusively manufactured by men, for a male readership, about the nerdy nitty-gritty of a TV show about masculinity. This has contributed, I think, to a new culture of television-making dominated by psychological portraiture, usually focused on men.

I think there's the tendency to take Tony's emotional or psychological problems at face value, as though he's an everyman representing the problems all contemporary men face.

But Tony is no ordinary man, and the only way to regard his psychological travails and talk sessions with Melfi is through a lens or irony, skepticism or cynicism.

I don't think that happened very much, though.
posted by JamesBay at 11:35 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I was talking with a friend today who is partly Italian-American and she mentioned how meaningful the episode was where Tony and his crew go to Italy to make a deal with the Camorra crew that they have distant relations with, and how spot on it portrayed the cultural alienation that they go through. In particular, the way that her family and others (and the Sopranos too) maintain a certain cultural ideal of authenticity with regards to the “old country” and what it feels like when that belief comes up against the fact that you don’t speak the language (or, if you do, you speak a variant that is so specific to emigrants from Italy, or maybe Sicily in particular, to the US that few people there would be able to understand you anyway) or really share many customs. I found that particularly fascinating because it clarified something for me about one of the thematic underpinnings of the show. Throughout its run it’s plainly engaging with previous works in the “genre,” like how Silvio is repeatedly asked to do his Michael Corleone impression, or how Christopher brings up Luca Brasi, or how (again with the same character) Christopher gets mocked for being tense on the way to being made in reference to how Joe Pesci’s character dies in Goodfellas. I think until just today I thought those instances were just cute bits of self-aware intertextuality, but now I think that they matter a lot more in context of the Italy episode: the distance between their culture and that of the Old Country is compounded beyond conception by the way that their culture is so self-referential, so built on caricatures of caricatures. I don’t take that, by the way, as a particular condemnation of Italian Americans: part of the project of The Sopranos as I read it is generalizing from how these characters live and think to how Americans do in general, and that commitment to a false “authenticity” is everywhere apparent in American society. Another way that the show still reveals itself to me even years after watching it.
posted by invitapriore at 6:40 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


part of the project of The Sopranos as I read it is generalizing from how these characters live and think to how Americans do in general, and that commitment to a false “authenticity” is everywhere apparent in American society. Another way that the show still reveals itself to me even years after watching it.

Reminds me of a great essay, How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained.
posted by JamesBay at 9:15 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


invitapriore/JamesBay:

I think both of your comments are interesting because The Sopranos does have a lot of generalizable themes about America and the human condition, yet, almost none* of the characters were relatable to me as individuals except in fairly specific, limited ways.** Tony is definitely not an everyman, nor is he supposed be, and it has always irritated me when people act like he is one. He is a villain and a thoroughly despicable, awful human being and while I can see how this may be obscured at first, if you do not come to that conclusion by the end of the show I do understand what it is that you were watching.

*Melfi - who I think is the closest thing the show has to an 'everyman' character - is a partial exception. Also Meadow, albeit for somewhat superficial reasons: I grew up in NYC suburbia and we're about the same age, so there were a lot of little experiences she had that reminded me of experiences I had growing up.

**What I mean by this is, there may be a situation where a character does something or feels something or thinks something that I can relate to. But, with the partial exceptions that I outlined above, I never really thought I could relate to them as individuals.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:02 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


One of the whole things about the show is that life isn't a narrative, there's no story that you're the star of, that will have some logic and shape to it--you (and me, and all of us) are not special in that way. So how could this show end but in mid-stream?

I think the end of the final episode may not only be the greatest of any TV show, ever, but maybe the only possible "best" ending: it points out the randomness and moment-to-moment reality of anyone's life experience, while also acknowledging its own artifice as a made thing, a show, by just stopping. No real end, just a point at which the show stops existing any more--like most of our lives, no final chapter or denouement or whatever, just a stopping of being. Any disappointment I ever experienced over that ending was really only my hope or expectation for what I wanted to have happen, rather than what actually did happen...kind of like life, sometimes.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:54 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


The Sopranos does have a lot of generalizable themes about America and the human condition, yet, almost none* of the characters were relatable to me as individuals except in fairly specific, limited ways.** Tony is definitely not an everyman, nor is he supposed be,

I tend to think that the Sopranos at its best is great satire. Tony Soprano represents male traits (and expectations), turned up to 11. For example, I have worked in places that have a lot of dynamics similar to one of the DiMeo family "crews"... we obviously weren't beating up or killing people. And the way Tony and his subordinates interact can resemble, in a very exaggerated way, male dynamics.

So, at least with my reading of the show, it's more that one facet of the show is an examination of the nature of work, male relationships and the toxic nature of masculinity in contemporary American middle-class life.

I think it was very easy for viewers to regard Tony as a sort of antihero and root for his success, but I don't think that was what David Chase and the writers were intended. We as the audience weren't supposed to relate to them as individuals, but perhaps think about the brutal nature of our own society.
posted by JamesBay at 1:29 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I just got done marathoning all six seasons, and am pretty blown away by the differences between the characters I responded to then and now.

Back then, I really liked Tony, Christopher and Silvio. I thought they were sympathetic, entertaining, funny and generally enjoyable. Now, I see all of them as being abusive, unreflective, misogynist bigots. And my favorite characters are now Vito Spatafore, John Sacrimoni, and above all else, Adriana La Cerva. Especially Adriana, the poor dear. And what an aesthetic! I wish I could pull off big hair, hoop earrings and animal prints the way she did.

I think it's an incredible testimony to the show that I can watch it 20 years later and not YIKES the entire thing, but instead, feel a shift of sympathies from one set of characters to another.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:50 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I tend to think that the Sopranos at its best is great satire.

Yeah, I think this is why it has (from my perspective) a lot more comic beats than most dramas in its class, and the intervention scene where the family is all there in Christopher’s living room is maybe the most explicitly it takes on the satirical mode, and I love it.
posted by invitapriore at 5:04 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Having grown up in a middle-class neighbourhood in the 70s and 80s, I have to say Tony's behaviour is really just an exaggeration of the somewhat sociopathic nature of suburban culture. I just remember from time to time over the years getting into the worst disputes with a couple of our neighbours, typically sparked by complaints about building fences, or dangerous additions that were against the building code and were a fire hazard.

The disputes were not civil and there was always an undercurrent of violence.
posted by JamesBay at 12:50 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


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