The Sopranos is a show that has the swaggering style and imagery of classic mobster movies like Goodfellas and Scarface. Like these legendary films, it too has an excellent soundtrack that perfectly complements the flood of hedonism, violence, and betrayal that have always underscored this type of film. Songs from Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones accompany the fast life of the show’s mobsters while the anguish of Radiohead and Mazzy Star join the characters in their darker moments. What makes this show special though is the depth offered by its unique psychoanalytical perspective. The show begins with the main character, mob boss Tony Soprano, speaking to a therapist about his recent panic attacks. This lens into the mind of the main character instantly distinguishes The Sopranos from other mafia movies and TV. The idea of a mob boss, someone viewed as fearsome and dominant, consulting a therapist to confront their mental health issues subverts the typical characterization of these mob boss figures. This perspective drives the character development of Tony and allows Lorraine Braco’s portrayal of therapist Jennifer Melfi to create overt symbols of Tony’s mental health issues and bring them to the consciousness of the audience.
This show shares a similar conflict with Breaking Bad, this situation where the main character is managing incredible stress in the world of crime and yet also balancing family life. The juxtaposition of Tony at his daughter’s youth soccer game after watching him beat the shit out of someone who owes him money is stressful to watch and makes you sympathize with him despite his flaws. Therein lies the brilliance of the show actually: you find yourself rooting for the ostensible “bad guy” in almost every single scene.
One of the most rewarding things about watching The Sopranos is that it welcomes you into an exclusive club; it may be one of the most referenced shows of all time. Countless rappers have name-dropped the infamous gangsters from the show with Freddie Gibbs being one of the most recent examples. Freddie says that he is, “top of the family like Johnny Sacrimoni”, a character from the show. There are also countless stylistic allusions to the show in the music scene. For example, King Krule borrowed the surreal, eerie aesthetic of Tony Soprano’s dream sequences for his “Alone, Omen 3” music video.
Simply put, if you are a fan of great TV, you will love this show. It has the depth of a canonized novel, shocking character development, an impeccable cast and some of the best storytelling I have ever seen on TV. If you are in the hunt for a good new show and are not put off by a little grittiness, stream this show on HBO Max. This show is so compelling that you may even find yourself slipping in the Italian American slang that the characters use in your own daily life.