The Sopranos: 20 Years Later
No show has had a greater impact on dramatic television than The Sopranos since it premiered 20 years ago. The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and others directly owe their influence to the show. However, the value of The Sopranos does not lie solely in what it created.
Chronicling the trials and tribulations of a New Jersey mafia family, the Sopranos boasts some of the highest quality writing, cinematography, and acting of any TV show, nearly unmatched since its conclusion 13 years ago. The late James Gandolfini stars as Mafia head Tony Soprano, portraying a hulking, menacing character. What makes Tony Soprano such a compelling character is not his wealth or physical power, but his ruthless, calculating demeanor.
I hesitate calling him a “protagonist” or even an anti-hero – Tony Soprano is a racist, sexist, cold man who only sees other human beings as a means to an end. Despite this, he is not invulnerable – he has frequent panic attacks, and sees a therapist. While these scenes can occasionally drag, especially in later seasons, it gives us a deeper insight into Tony’s character, with him reluctantly breaking his “tough-guy” demeanor as the show progresses.
While the portrayal of mental health can be a little blunt at times, it should still be commended for acknowledging that men, no matter their status or wealth, can still experience issues with their mental health. The show does not use mental health as a means to excuse Tony’s actions, but rather to add realism and depth to his character.
Tony is far from the only interesting character, though. The Sopranos has some of the most memorable supporting characters, and I hate all of them. Do not think that is an insult – each character is perfectly written to be a complex figure caught up in a world where compassion is not a valuable skill.
From Tony’s wife Carmela, who chooses to ignore her husband’s murderous activities, his worm-like nephew Christopher, or the assorted cast of detestable-yet-entertaining wise guys, The Sopranos creates a cast of characters that is perfect and believable for the world in which they exist, and I never got sick of watching them for over 80 hours.
Furthermore, the show expertly constructs tension and conflict – rarely is a conflict contrived, but rather a natural result of the characters’ actions. While the plot is engaging and well-written, the real draw of the show is witnessing the arc of each character and the interactions between them, which are often darkly funny. The character interactions are seriously unbelievable and is what the show will be remembered for in coming years.
Despite being over two decades old, the Sopranos is still an example of some of the finest television in the history of the medium, and any aspiring writer should take inspiration from it.