f you have some free time over this weekend, I suggest that you spend it in New Jersey — specifically, North Caldwell, New Jersey, longtime home of Anthony and Carmela Soprano.
This summer marked the 10th anniversary of the show’s infamous “blank screen” ending, and so, not having tuned in for a while, I set myself the task of watching the entire series, in order. What began as a project swiftly became a labour of love, and then I had to force myself to slow down, lest I finish too fast.
I had forgotten what a truly magnificent work of art showrunner David Chase achieved. The Sopranos is widely credited with kicking off the era of “prestige television.” It’s easy to see why. The writing was witty yet earthy (really, really earthy), the characters were believable, the acting was uniformly outstanding, and the narrative itself began as engrossing and swiftly became compelling.
With its central tale of a troubled mob boss seeing a psychiatrist to understand why he suffered panic attacks and was so angry all the time, The Sopranos sounds like a dark comedy. That’s how it was originally conceived, and even as the story began to get serious, the humour was always there. The family relationships were tragically familiar: Tony and his monster of a mother, Tony and his wily uncle, Tony and his rebellious children, and, most important, Tony and his wife, who grew in the course of the series from the enabler who loved the jewels and large house that her husband’s business provided to the troubled, defiant moral centre of the tale.
The Sopranos famously pioneered both the gore and the explicit sex that have become the norm on prestige TV, and precisely because the show was first, all that blood and sex seems a little tame. The show also pioneered the willingness to kill off familiar and even beloved characters, often with no warning, and unlike so much of today’s television, kept on killing them as the end drew near.