For telly fans such as ourselves, this series marks the dawn of a TV revolution, where the small screen became as significant as the silver one, and home entertainment became a presence as large and looming as Tony Soprano himself. Bada bing bada boom.
In pretty much every list of ‘best TV shows of all time’, this one makes the top five. Even twenty-odd years since it first aired, it’s still universally adored and recognised as one of the most significant bits of telly ever, paving the way for future dramas by moving away from one episode plotlines and into a world of season long storylines with complex, flawed characters who grow and change as the story continues.
It follows Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a large and in charge New Jersey mafia mobster so intimidating that even seeing him through your telly screen will make your knees wobble. You can see why his minions are so keen to please him… He is the human mascot for toxic masculinity – he picks women up as quickly as he throws them down, is prone to murderous fits of rage, and is tortured by the presence of his oppressive mother Livia. But we don’t mean oppressive as in shouting at wee Tony to put the pots away or swing the hoover round – she quite literally plots to have him killed. But she’s not the only thorn in his side. His wife Carmela is wilfully ignorant of how her hubby is paying the bills, and his stroppy daughter and spoiled son aren’t exactly his pride and joy. Yet he’s bound by some sense of duty to each and every one of them.
Luckily we get to unpick this toxicity with the help of his therapist, Dr Malfi, where we see bit by bit the veil lift on his macho man personality, to uncover a vulnerability underneath. And despite our better knowledge, we might even grow to like him…? Which really is impressive of the writers, considering Tony spends the majority of his time murdering or plotting to murder. But it isn’t purely violence and mobsters – one of the things that makes the six seasons of The Sopranos so enjoyable is its brilliant deployment of humour, which is embedded in its overtones of menace and intimidation.
And this genius is likely one of the big reasons it makes those ‘best TV ever’ lists we were on about earlier – it’s number one in The Rolling Stone’s – and why the critics jump at any and every opportunity to celebrate this show. The Telegraph, The Washington Post and The Guardian have published articles exploring how this huge show impacted future dramas, and in particular the gangster genre, whilst in a separate article The Guardian’s David Stubbs says this is “still the most masterful show ever,” and The Wire is “the only series worthy of being bracketed alongside The Sopranos.” Good job we’ve reviewed that too, then.
First shown January 1999.