Back in the 90s, a TV show dared to ask: What if a bad guy?
But the main character?
And oh we were off to the races.
The Sopranos is a long-running crime drama series that started in 1999, and concluded in 2007. It focuses on the story, centrally, of the character Tony Soprano, an important then leading character in the Sopranos crime ‘family’ and I’m not going to get into a fight with you about the organisation here. Sure. Whatever, you win. Anyway, the hook of the series, if you can call it that, is that it’s about this mobster guy, right, a real interesting criminal dude in charge of a criminal enterprise, and yet, sometimes, get this, he has to go talk to his therapist. And that, that, you see, the hook works, because this guy, this mobster, turns out that he’s like, conflicted and tormented and all like, fucked up in the head, you see? Like, there’s this whole ongoing narrative about the way this guy just sucks so bad and sucks at getting better and sucks at learning the lessons. Like get a load of this, all these events and these, these circumstances, they go about doin’ things and transpiring all about him and yet through it all he learns the important lesson that he should continue doing everything pretty much exactly the way he does.
You know the way that Scrubs is all about watching JD just vacillate between the same two lessons back and forth? It’s like that, but you’ll hear more slurs.
I feel like this story is a sort of fabulous universe, not supernatural, but like it’s built around a fable, where all of reality stops and starts in the wake of Tony Soprano. Whatever happens happens in relationship to him and whatever relationship it has only matters inasmuch as it matters to him. This shows in how the characters seem to treat him as fearsome and powerful, but most of the way that power is expressed, he’s only ever threatening someone smaller than him, weaker than him, or, within the crime family, someone who cannot reasonably fight back or stop him. There is one fight he engages with where his opponent is any kind of an equal with him, where he doesn’t get an immense drop on someone smaller than him while he’s armed, and in that fight, Tony not only gets absolutely clobbered, but also spends the rest of the episode whining about how it doesn’t count and how oh those four years make a big difference.
Tony Soprano is a really embarrassing main character. The hook is that he goes to therapy and the story that comes out of that is he doesn’t change and still sucks. And people loved this show, and it ran for so long. In the first episode it was a big deal that they had DVD Players, that’s how long it ran for!
I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing this very important, very well made series, because it’s very compelling and so many of the … characters? are so very interesting? Wait, are they? Is it that the characters are interesting, or — look, you have a huge variety of actors, with a lot of different delivery methods who are all playing story roles that distinguish themselves from one another and helps immensely with the challenge of telling a story about a group of guys who are all essentially, the same guy, and every single one of them completely sucks shit.
It’s this wild kind of story that’s just about the relentless weakness of these men; they inflict themselves on people around them because they can’t tolerate anything that distresses them emotionally, because they don’t know how to connect to people, and how they don’t know how to learn anything or teach anything. It’s not just limited to the mob though – they’re surrounded by their victims who they exploit for money who mostly just get hurt and then accept it, and the authorities that are striving to contain them, and they fail to do it, and the women around them that they chew up and spit out. They’re all just these weak, miserable, pathetic men who can’t hold a conversation with anyone, who never apologise to anyone for anything, who get families so they have an excuse for all the neglect and abuse they inflict on them and spend the rest of their time doing things they like to do for the people they resent supporting.
I don’t hate these characters, though, overwhelmingly, I don’t care about their pain. Watching Christufah wail about his suffering and his struggles with drugs and alcohol aren’t quite so impressive when you remember this guy killed a dog and beats women. Tony’s constant abuse of his wife and children makes it hard for me to care about seeing him struggling to connect to his Uncle Junior. And oh, he had a tragic backstory, that sucks. Lots of us have tragic backstories and somehow don’t turn out to be awful dudes who suck and we don’t even get to be millionaires as well.
There are two characters I found reasonably enjoyable, like I was happy when they showed up and did stuff, which were Silvio and Patsy. Silvio, largely keeps his abominable acts off screen, so we’re not confronted with the way he sexually abuses the sex workers under his care, and, yeah, saying that doesn’t help with the fact I remember liking the guy, and Patsy doesn’t seem to actively abuse women for his own satisfaction anywhere. They’re both just dudes who like being gangsters and are there to do a job. They’re workers, they’re reliable, and Patsy delivers probably my favourite line in the show.
Annnd he pisses in Tony’s pool, which to be fair, he definitely deserves worse.
Now with all of that said, sure, I liked watching The Sopranos, I watched all of it, and once I got to the famous end, I felt very satisfied and happy. It’s a great ending! What a banger! Anyway, there I’m done, show is over, show made its points, show is enjoyable and cool even if it’s overwhelmingly about dudes who just do nothing but suck shit all the time and now I’m glad I don’t have to watch it any more. I have done my The Sopranos homework!
Imagine then what it must feel like to me to hear people advertising their full The Sopranos Rewatch Podcasts, where they boast about watching the series multiple times and how they’re going to dig deep on every part of this series.
There’s a stereotype of a kind of guy who just rewatches Scarface a lot. I think ‘rewatches The Sopranos‘ or ‘compares himself to Tony Soprano’ is the same genre of guy, just slower and more boring. That’s a guy who doesn’t want to reference one ninety minute movie of profanity and violence and horrible things to say, but rather a whole television series’ worth of it.
Hey, if you’re that guy, or if you know that guy, it’s important you understand: You’re just doing what people you hate do with The Office.