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First The Godfather. Then Goodfellas. Now The Sopranos.,
This review is from: The Sopranos: Complete HBO Seasons 1-6 Box Set [DVD] (DVD)
New Jersey mafia drama, The Sopranos, has been deluged with praise. Anyone approaching this for the first time might be expecting to have their expectations unrealistically raised - The New York Times called it possibly the finest piece of American television "in the last twenty years." However, this modern classic fully deserves every plaudit that has been laid at its door. The Sopranos is in the same rich vein of epic Italian-American storytelling as both The Godfather and Goodfellas, two classics of cinema; The Sopranos is easily a modern contemporary that can proudly take its place in the same pantheon.
The initial conceit of The Sopranos, as envisaged by creator David Chase, is that Tony Soprano, family man and Family man, is indulging in that quintessential middle class American crutch - psychotherapy. This calculating, cynical, mid-level mafia boss, is plagued by feelings of doubt and lack of self-esteem, `issues' that were inculcated in childhood and that have now blossomed in to full blown neuroses; these psychological problems are now starting to diffuse into both his personal relations with his family and his `business' decisions within organised crime.
The second conceit, one that is mostly played for laughs, is that the mobsters in The Sopranos are not only aware of films like The Godfather, they positively revel in their cinematic ancestry: mobster Silvio Dante repeatedly does terrible impressions of Al Pacino (from The Godfather Part III), other mobsters misquote or discuss various films and their similarities to the events that are happening around them; other scenes are based on sequences from Goodfellas et al but given an ironic twist. This could easily become so much post-modern rubbish in lesser hands, a one-joke routine spun out to encompass several series but this is most definitely not the case. A modern mob drama could not ignore those films previously mentioned, to do so would have been simply unrealistic; similarly, in recent FBI wiretaps, real life Mafioso have been recorded discussing The Sopranos and asking each other if it's based on them..
The writing of The Sopranos straddles that most difficult of genres, the comedy-drama. The series is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and yet at the same time we believe in the seriousness of the characters and the gravity of the dilemmas they face. Like certain other classic mob dramas, The Sopranos sucks the audience in: we cheer when Tony gets the better of his enemies, even though that means that innocent families get broken and others on the sidelines get killed. This brings us to the very essence of the entire series, articulated during a conversation betwixt Tony Sopranos' psychotherapist and her divorced husband: "Eventually, you're going to get past your psychotherapy with all its cheesy moral relativism and finally get down to good and evil. And he's evil."
As somebody who watched The Sopranos from its initial broadcast to its abrupt finale, all superlatives are fully justified. The whole six series establishes a high water mark for television. A landmark programme that redefines the medium's possibilities, each series stands alone as an epic movie. I have not singled out any particular member of cast or crew for special praise, as the entire ensemble is uniformly outstanding and all involved will probably never hit such heights again. If The Godfather and Goodfellas represent pinnacles of cinematic artistry, The Sopranos, it can now finally be written with certainty, can be added to such a rostrum. If expectations have been raised, they will be fully satisified.