The Sopranos is an American television drama series considered to be masterpiece by critics and audiences alike. Created and written by David Chase, The Sopranos aired for six seasons (1999–2007) on Home Box Office (HBO) and earned an international following as a result of its excellence. The Sopranos is said to have set the standard for what a crime drama series should be; full of suspense, thrill and excitement. It is impossible to overstate The Sopranos’ influence on television across the globe. Many famous and successful shows that followed The Sopranos in years to come like Breaking Bad and Peaky Blinders seem to have traces of inspiration and borrow certain elements from this legendary show.
Set in New Jersey, The Sopranos follows Mafia boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) through regular sessions with a psychiatrist (Lorraine Bracco) to whom he goes for help after experiencing panic attacks that cause him to black out. His infidelity and the violent nature of a life in organized crime form the backdrop for the dysfunctional relationship he has with his own family. Beset by enemies and family difficulties, he struggles to come to terms with power, morality, and death.
Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Paulie (Tony Sirico), and Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) form Tony’s most trusted inner circle, while many others enter and leave the circle as the series progresses. The themes of identity, guilt, and denial are highlighted by the selective acknowledgment of the harsh realities of Tony’s crime world by his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco), and the Sopranos children, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler).
The Sopranos is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. It won a multitude of awards, including Peabody Awards for its first two seasons, 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, and 5 Golden Globe Awards. It has been the subject of critical analysis, controversy, and parody, and it has spawned books, a video game, soundtrack albums, and assorted merchandise. Several members of the show’s cast and crew were largely unknown to the public but have since had successful careers. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named The Sopranos the best-written TV series of all time, and many sites have ranked it the best television series of all time.
The main reason for the show’s success has to be James Gandolfini and his portrayal of Tony Soprano. The masterful complexity of Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano and the uneasy juxtaposition of brutality and sensitivity on display challenge the viewer to step inside Tony’s world and examine his choices from an intimate and personal perspective. Gandolfini plays Tony as a rough and tough guy, but doesn’t neglect the gentle fragility guarded within him. Not good, not bad, just human. It was also so famous because of how it explored so many important themes that really reflected modern America’s existential preoccupations. The show highlights things like mental health, homosexuality, family relations, sexual harassment, etc. It was a raw and real show that didn’t pull any punches. Hence, it is not just a mob drama, but also a social satire, a domestic drama and a statement of the rise in Western consumerism. The Sopranos rightly got a lot of praise for nearly all of this, but one thing is often overlooked; it was also a really funny show. It was funny not because the script was full of jokes and punchlines, but because it created very funny situations and circumstances in a very natural manner. All of these aspects and elements made it not only a show well worth watching, but also one that set the benchmark and is revered to this day.
The influence of The Sopranos cannot be quantified, and it was the foundation upon which HBO became a cultural force. Sex and the City premiered on HBO six months before The Sopranos, breaking ground for women in television and comedy and becoming an influential trend factory. But while Sex and the City gave HBO glitz, The Sopranos gave it gravitas. Due to this show, the network became synonymous with quality drama, the great TV-making seal of approval.
Many contend that till today, The Sopranos remains the best TV series in the world. Though this is subjective, there seems to be overwhelming support from audiences and critics alike that this show is one of the best, if not best crime drama ever made. Regardless, if you have not seen it yet, you should definitely give it a try and you may notice how this show laid the groundwork for many other great shows in years to come.