Throughout every decade of television, there comes a show that totally changes the playing field. A show that is packed with so much talent both on and off-screen that it forces everyone to be gripped from start to finish. A show in which each episode feels more like a feature film than just an ordinary television affair. In the 2000s, that show is unquestionably HBO’s mafia epic The Sopranos. It is a television show that has truly transformed how viewers experience scripted series that are filled with fully-developed characters and multiple unexpected plot twists. With an eclectic and talented cast at its disposal as well as a brilliant crew of directors and writers, The Sopranos soars as one of the greatest television shows to have ever graced the silver screen.
The Sopranos is an American television show created by David Chase and produced by the Home Box Office (HBO) channel. It tells the story of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss, as he copes with the various personal and professional matters in his home and business life. The television series features one of the medium’s strongest ensemble casts ever including James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Drea de Matteo, and Aida Turturro. The Sopranos is a crime drama that ran for six seasons with a total of eighty-six episodes.
A key part in the success of any television show is how good the acting talent is. When it comes to The Sopranos, it has that in spades. This show really has one of the best group of actors I have ever witnessed in a television show. With such a large cast, it is hard to pinpoint specific actors to give special attention to. However, James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Drea de Matteo, Dominic Chianese, and Tony Sirico are ones who deserve such recognition.
Playing the title role of mob boss Tony Soprano, the late James Gandolfini must have felt massive pressure bringing such a complex character to life. Tony is a conflicted, lost, but kind man who gets himself involved in a lot of nasty business that it makes it hard for the viewer to sympathize with him. But sympathize they do as Gandolfini is masterfully able to infuse both the good and bad sides of Tony into one fascinating character worth studying and, dare I say, admire.
Throughout the six seasons, one watches as Tony grows more and more frustrated and confused by the nature of his work and how that takes a toll on him, both personally and professionally. What I love most about Gandolfini’s performance in The Sopranos is how he is seamlessly able to bring his character to life. It is truly astonishing how effortless he makes it all seem. It is the highlight of his entire career and his passing makes one miss such a talented actor. At least we have his outstanding work in The Sopranos to remember him by. A truly remarkable actor.
Lorraine Bracco takes on the role of Doctor Jennifer Melfi, Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist. As the only person in Tony’s life who is fully exposed to all his misdeeds, Melfi becomes Tony’s adviser and moral center, always asking him to be more patient and thoughtful in his actions, before he regrets anything. Bracco seems to have been born to play this role as she is utterly convincing as Dr. Melfi. She gives her character the poise, eloquence, and authority one expects from a psychiatrist tasked with making her patients’ lives better. As with Gandolfini, Bracco never gave a better role for the rest of her career. Honestly, I doubt she ever will.
As Tony Soprano’s wife, Edie Falco is flawless as the complicated and compassionate Carmela Soprano. Being the wife of a mob boss involves being exposed to a constant stream of heartbreaks and disappointments. However, Carmela is a strong and confident woman who knows how to take care of herself, even when Tony fails to do so. Edie does such an excellent job fully portraying the role that the audience does not question her decisions for a single moment. That is always one of the signs of a great actress and Edie Falco is certainly that. A terrific actress at the top of her game.
Among the many supporting roles in The Sopranos, perhaps none are as magnetic or tragic than that of Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti. Being Tony Soprano’s nephew, Christopher aspires to always please his uncle and reach a level close to his. The dynamic between Imperioli and Gandolfini is amongst one of the show’s many highlights. The chemistry and conversations between both actors are natural and real that I find it hard that these are just actors reading their lines. It feels so much more than that. Imperioli’s Christopher is one of my favorite characters on the show because his journey throughout the six seasons is so unique and different than the other characters. He goes through a lot of changes that make it hard for viewers not to support and cheer for him. Michael Imperioli is a thoroughly-gifted actor who enriches The Sopranos with his presence.
Another of The Sopranos’s many tragic figures is undoubtedly Drea de Matteo’s Adriana La Cerva. As Christopher Moltisanti’s long-time girlfriend, Adriana goes through a roller coaster ride that makes her soon realize how ill-equipped she really is. She struggles a lot trying to have a normal life in the midst of the mob ‘family’ she finds herself surrounded in. What I like about Drea’s Adriana is that she is yet another female character that is given the space and time to develop and grow. A woman who really pushes herself to become a better person living a worthwhile life. That goal takes her on a voyage that is one of the show’s most captivating, if tragic, story-lines.
One of the show’s most intriguing characters has got to be Tony Soprano’s uncle, Junior Soprano, who is played perfectly by Dominic Chianese. Junior is the face of the mafia family while Tony takes care of the day-to-day ‘business’. Chianese does a really superlative job as a man whose old age has made it harder for him to function properly as a mob leader. He suffers many setbacks, some even quite surprising, and makes Tony go crazy trying to handle both his uncle and the frustrations of his own life. What I enjoy most about Chianese’s performance on The Sopranos is how he lets his character smoothly switches between sanity and insanity. He might not be one of my favorites but he is certainly one of the television show’s most fascinating personalities.
Speaking of fascinating characters, Tony Sirico’s Paulie Gualtieri is another one. Paulie is one of Tony Soprano’s main henchmen who is depended upon to provide his boss with unquestionable and undying support, no matter how weird or difficult a situation he finds himself in. Sirico proves to be one of the best character actors on the show as he fully immerses himself into his role. He is simply one of the series’s most entertaining personalities thanks to his unique mannerisms and postures. As with his relationship with Christopher, Tony’s bond with Paulie is one of the show’s many highlights. He is yet another acting talent that The Sopranos is lucky to have amongst its impressive cast.
The Sopranos also has had a wealth of excellent guest appearances throughout its six seasons. Among those, two rise above the rest: Joe Pantoliano and Steve Buscemi. Returning from an unexplained “disappearance”, Ralph Cifaretto, portrayed on the screen by Joe Pantoliano, goes through the mob’s ranking system until he captures the attention of Tony Soprano and becomes one of his most trusted men. Ralph is an explosive and conniving man who, though an excellent earner for Tony, is very unstable and capable of huge violent untimely outbursts, without any real reason to do so. Joe Pantoliano’s work on The Sopranos is quite simply outstanding as he injects a high dose of entertainment during his limited time on the show.
Steve Buscemi takes on the role of Tony Blundetto, Tony Soprano’s cousin who is released from prison and returns to the mob life once again. He soon loses interest in what was a big part of his life before prison and looks to reform by involving himself into a more civilian, non-criminal life. But, Blundetto realizes that this is not a life fit for him, returning back into the crime life with deadly consequences to him and those around him. Buscemi, as is the case with Pantoliano, is one of the greatest character actors of our time. And he perfectly demonstrates that during his short time on The Sopranos. A tremendous and underrated actor.
Of course, The Sopranos would not have been able to achieve such staggering success if not for the fantastic group of directors and writers it is blessed with. Lead by creator David Chase, the crew have been able to carefully and lovingly craft season after season of wonderful storytelling. The characters come alive on the screen, fully immersing viewers into their lives. And though the show’s series finale is not as satisfying as many had hoped, the show’s crew has been able to provide a fresh look at the crime genre that easily rivals its greatest motion pictures counterparts, namely The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990).
There is also the gorgeous cinematography that makes the entire look of the series so polished and mesmerizing. The long shots of the New Jersey wilderness, the expansiveness of the Sopranos mansion, and the noise and decadence of the Bada Bing are captured beautifully, each emitting its own distinctive atmosphere to the viewers.
It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that The Sopranos has won a staggering total of 21 Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Awards during its six seasons. Anyone who has watched the show realizes that this crew has been able to achieve something so special that it will take a very long time for any other show to better. If that ever happens, of course.
One should also mention the music used on the show. The opening credits song, played as we see Tony Soprano going on a drive from New York to New Jersey, is by the British group Alabama 3 and is titled “Woke Up This Morning”. It is surely one of the best ever opening credits songs as it effectively gives off the gritty and cool vibe The Sopranos tries to build, effectively preparing viewers for yet another intense and entertaining episode.
In addition to the opening credits song, the show’s music, which are all hand-picked by creator David Chase himself, are a diverse mix of pop, classic rock, jazz, soul, and hip-hop. They are all used effectively to add an aura of majesty and grandiosity to the scenes. A brilliant soundtrack for an equally-brilliant television show.
I do not think that we will ever see another show like The Sopranos in our lifetime ever again. It is a television series that has managed to take so many unique elements, whether it be the acting talent, the story-lines, or the directing styles, and produced a hypnotic, almost religious, television event that one does not forget. It is that specific factor that will make The Sopranos live long in memory. To be able to create a series that is full of memorable scenes and iconic moments is an incredible feat that The Sopranos has successfully been able to achieve. It is a landmark television show that has changed the television landscape forever and is not to be missed by anyone looking to be enthralled by an epic story.
Crime / Drama
- James Gandolfini (as Tony Soprano)
- Lorraine Bracco (as Dr. Jennifer Melfi)
- Edie Falco (as Carmela Soprano)
- Michael Imperioli (as Christopher Moltisanti)
- Dominic Chianese (as Junior Soprano)
- Tony Sirico (as Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri)
- Robert Iler (as A.J. Soprano)
- Steven Van Zandt (as Silvio Dante)
- Jamie-Lynn Sigler (as Meadow Soprano)
- Aida Turturro (as Janice Soprano)
- Drea de Matteo (as Adriana La Cerva)
- Steve Schirripa (as Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri)
- Dan Grimaldi (as Patsy Parisi)
- Joseph R. Gannascoli (as Vito Spatafore)
- John Ventimiglia (as Artie Bucco)
Favorite Episodes: (Spoilers Alert!!)
- I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, Episode 13)
- Synopsis: Tony begins to retaliate for the attempt on his life, but he is stunned when he learns that his mother and uncle were behind it. Junior tries to escape when he suspects that Tony will come after him, but the Feds intervene before Junior can get away. Livia pits Artie against Tony in a last-ditch effort to save herself. Carmela finally lays down the law with Father Phil.
- The Knight in White Satin Armor (Season 2, Episode 12)
- Synopsis: Richie’s insubordination finally pushes Tony to the limit. Tony finds that breaking up with his Russian girlfriend is more complicated than he thought. Janice takes matters into her own hands after a quarrel with Richie.
- Funhouse (Season 2, Episode 13)
- Synopsis: Tony is stricken by a nasty bout of food poisoning and has a strange dream conversation with Pussy in his delirium. When Tony wakes up, his suspicions are aroused. The FBI catches Livia at the airport with incriminating evidence against her son. The Feds decide to move against Tony just before Meadow’s graduation.
- Pine Barrens (Season 3, Episode 11)
- Synopsis: While on a collection errand, Paulie and Christopher find themselves thrust into a deadly chase with a Russian in the frigid woods of South Jersey. Tony is caught between business, family obligations, and Gloria’s temper when he must deal with the crisis. Meadow’s relationship with Jackie, Jr. takes a bad turn when she discovers him with another girl.
- Whoever Did This (Season 4, Episode 9)
- Synopsis: Junior uses an injury at the courthouse as an opportunity to introduce a new defense at his trial. Ralphie begins to ponder the state of his life when his son is badly hurt in an archery accident. A fire at the stables results in the death of Tony’s favorite horse, and he suspects Ralphie may be the cause.
- Whitecaps (Season 4, Episode 13)
- Synopsis: Tony and Johnny Sack prepare to move against Carmine, but Tony second-guesses the deal and considers another option. Meanwhile, Tony haggles with a lawyer when he decides to buy a beach house as a gift for Carmela.The judge makes a major ruling in Junior’s case, and Christopher returns clean and sober from rehab. Carmela reaches a breaking point when Tony’s former mistress taunts her over the phone.
- Long Term Parking (Season 5, Episode 12)
- Synopsis: The FBI finds new evidence that they use as leverage against Adriana. Adriana relents and tries to persuade Christopher to go into witness protection with her. Tony and Carmela meet over lunch and work toward a reconciliation, which includes a new real estate project for Carmela. Johnny Sack delivers a stern ultimatum to Tony, who is hesitant to give up his cousin.
- All Due Respect (Season 5, Episode 13)
- Synopsis: Tony faces pressure from his own crew to give up his cousin to Johnny Sack and does some soul-searching on Melfi’s couch before deciding on a course of action. A.J. proves himself to be a schemer, while Christopher tells Carmela that he and Adriana have ended their relationship. Tony meets with Johnny Sack to restore peace between Jersey and New York, but the Feds play a surprise card that sends Tony fleeing to safety.
- The Blue Comet (Season 6, Episode 20)
- Synopsis: The spectre of disloyalty among the crew hangs over Tony as Phil Leotardo decides how to handle recent issues with the Soprano crime family; a hit gone wrong comes at a huge cost; A.J.’s conquering of his depression is challenged.
Primetime Emmy Awards Won:
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano for “College”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: David Chase and James Manos, Jr. for “College”
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano for “The Happy Wanderer”
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano for “Amour Fou”
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano for “Second Opinion”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green for “Employee of the Month”
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano for “Whitecaps”
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano for “Whitecaps”
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Joe Pantoliano as Ralph Cifaretto for “Christopher” and “Whoever Did This”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Mitchell Burgess, David Chase and Robin Green for “Whitecaps”
- Outstanding Drama Series: Henry J. Bronchtein, Martin Bruestle, Mitchell Burgess, David Chase, Robin Green, Brad Grey, Ilene S. Landress, Matthew Weiner and Terence Winter for “Where’s Johnny?”; “All Happy Families…”; “Irregular Around the Margins”; “Unidentified Black Males”; “Cold Cuts”; and “Long Term Parking”
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti for “Irregular Around the Margins” and “Long Term Parking”
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Drea de Matteo as Adriana La Cerva for “Irregular Around the Margins” and “Long Term Parking”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Terence Winter for “Long Term Parking”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Terence Winter for “Members Only”
- Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Alan Taylor for “Kennedy and Heidi”
- Outstanding Drama Series: Henry J. Bronchtein, Martin Bruestle, David Chase, Diane Frolov, Brad Grey, Ilene S. Landress, Andrew Schneider, Gianna Maria Smart, Matthew Weiner and Terence Winter for “Soprano Home Movies”; “The Blue Comet”; “Stage 5”; “Kennedy and Heidi”; “The Second Coming”; and “Made in America”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: David Chase for “Made in America”