It’s been 15 years – why are we still obsessed with the Sopranos?


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or the now elderly men who made The Sopranos, the show’s continued popularity – some would say, growing – is a source of bewilderment.

“It’s shocking to me,” 76-year-old author David Chase said recently when posting his prequel to The Many Saints of Newark (released this week), “It’s gratifying, confusing that this show, 15 years later, is relevant. “

Meanwhile, on Talking Sopranos, a weekly podcast near the end of its epic 86-episode revisit series, hosts Steve Schirripa (Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri) and Michael Imperioli (Christopher “Chrissy” Moltisanti) regularly scratch their heads. head on that their fans are getting younger, not older – something cemented when the podcast itself won popular vote at the prestigious Webby Awards earlier this year.

But let’s put some real statistics on it. At the end of 2020, NOW TV reported a 122% increase in Sopranos views in the UK, while in America, HBO estimated the same figure at 200%. Google reported three times as many searches for the show during the lockdown than similar “prestige boxes” like The Wire. The year the world stayed home, The Sopranos were the sourdough baking – or maybe the sourdough baking jokes – from the television. Show favorites like Uncle Junior and Paulie Walnuts, tracing back in the wake of meme culture, suggest it’s not just the result of baby boomers on a nostalgic journey but, like the second coming. of Friends, signs of approval from the so-called hard to please. new generation of viewers.

Michael Gandolfini and Alessandro Nivola in The Many Saints of Newark

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On paper, that doesn’t make sense. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Sopranos – especially these people, in fact – identifies him as a “man show”. The weapon in the logo; the scowling face of Tony Soprano; violence and the wrong leather jackets; the clear lineage he shares with The Godfather and Goodfellas. All of this marks the Sopranos as a cultural artefact from a bygone era when the narratives of middle-aged men were still de facto the focus of popular culture. One of her regular sets is a strip club, for heaven’s sake. What could Gen Z see in this?

For what it’s worth, I can attribute – or at least follow – my own progressive awakening to feminism to the way I’ve performed The Sopranos in the five or six times I’ve watched it since 2007. At 15 years old , it seemed in some ways a manual for manhood – not the murderous part, obviously – but the tenacity, sense of loyalty and, most importantly, the “outlaw freedom” that Tony and his crew seemed. embody. Within the parameters of a normal, law-abiding life, I wanted to be like them.

Yes … they hang out in a strip club

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With time and age, this perspective has changed completely. Under money and guns, The Sopranos is a critique of the miseries inflicted by traditional masculinity – not a celebration of it. The men have all the money and power in the world, and are all scared and sad. As Tony puts it himself, “I got the world by the balls, so why do I feel like I am a loser?” The final season opens with a character, Eugene Pontecovo, dying by suicide after the pressures of his faltering marriage and professional life become unbearable. These tough men suffer from panic attacks, OCD, drug addiction and depression.

The language of mental health, now so prevalent in our culture, was not used directly in the show because, in a sense, it didn’t exist yet. But the Sopranos show us what it means to suffer with the kind of issues that we – thank goodness – are now finding ways to be open to. That honesty and authenticity is probably something Gen Z, tired of being “taken care of” by brands and influencers, responds to.

The Sopranos are also a complex family portrait

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At the heart of this, of course, is the fact that Tony himself – a character made immortal by James Gandolfini’s most complete acting performance in television history – is in therapy. These pivotal scenes, although now something of a cliché when it comes to dramatic devices, hold up surprisingly well. The defense, the vulnerability, the barter, the transference and the countertransference of rage and despair, sheer boredom … anyone who has known the tumult of being “in analysis” will understand why, at the time, Les Sopranos have been recognized by the American Psychoanalytic Association and why, to this day, she inspires others to seek therapy with the expectation of hard work rather than instant miracles.

The show is not perfect. There’s a moment I hate in the first season where a stripper’s reaction to bad news is played out for cheap comedy. But he evolved extremely quickly, and to think that the Sopranos are ignorant or indifferent to his female characters is a far cry from the truth. Women suffer terribly under the yoke of an extreme form of patriarchy, but the series doesn’t take nauseating pleasure like Game of Thrones, decentralize the problem much like The Wire, or turn its female roles into antagonists like Breaking Bad.

Tony Soprano in therapy

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Instead, the moral turmoil of “crowd woman” Carmella (a stunning Edie Falco), the integrity and pride of Doctor Melfi (Lorraine Braco), and the difficult coming of age of her. Meadow’s daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are all portrayed with as much nuance if not more than the lives of the “big crooks” they suffer from. The Writers’ Room was not a perfect gender equality stage, but powerful voices like Diane Frolov, Robin Green, and Toni Kalem played an important role in shaping the series. Paradoxically, the fact that The Sopranos was the last big show made before the industry – and society – lagged behind on sexism probably worked in its favor: it was a team simply chasing after sexism. ‘a good story, not concerned with good public relations.

Chase eventually adopted a quintessentially cantankerous theory of why the great job of his life is suddenly popular again with a new generation: “Someone told me the other day, ‘Of course young people like it. series is sarcastic and nihilistic ”. It clicked for me. I’m sure they’re nihilistic, with good reason. I am not sure that I fully agree. The best kept secret of the Sopranos remains that it is funnier than any comedy: it alone helps to keep its flame alive. But deeper down, it was art made for art, free from the self-awareness of the social media age, a flawed but often sublime narrative grappling with the question of why we are here and what. which, if any, can make us satisfied. When it comes to appreciating these things, generational divisions just don’t exist.

The Many Saints of Newark is now in theaters


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