Entertainment

20 years later, how did ‘Sopranos’ change TV – and us?


By Helene Stapinski | Washington Post

When I first heard about “The Sopranos,” I was reluctant to watch it. I knew this world – two-bit Jersey mobsters, their consiglieri and goomars – way too intimately. As a fledgling reporter, I had covered a mob trial back in the ’80s in Newark and heard my cousin’s name mentioned in the secretly recorded FBI tapes. I’d even written a book, “Five-Finger Discount,” with real characters from my own family – including a murderous grandfather called Beansie – that were eerily similar to David Chase’s creations. How could a TV show capture the world that I genuinely understood from the inside out?

Though I was a huge “Godfather” fan, I hated movies that poked fun of Italian Americans – “My Blue Heaven” and even “Moonstruck,” which I did come to love in time. Italian Americans aren’t all morons existing for your comic pleasure. I had a chip on my shoulder as thick as a slice of Sicilian pizza.

But out of curiosity, I tuned in to “The Sopranos.” From the opening credits, with Tony’s drive out of the Lincoln Tunnel through the urban wasteland where I grew up and into the “safety” of the suburbs, I was hooked. Because of my own life and my family’s hilarious and alarming story, I identified with Tony when he told his therapist, “I find I have to be the sad clown. Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.”

I wasn’t the only one who identified.

The Sopranos Sessions, by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall. Harry N. Abrams

“The Sopranos” was a huge hit with both critics and viewers – here was a family comedy and drama that didn’t insult our intelligence, that told a layered story, punctuated with a smart and varied playlist. Its characters were sometimes dumb, but they were always complex and genuine with an incredible cast led by James Gandolfini, who walked the line between brutal and sensitive every week and made “The Sopranos,” well, sing.

The landscape of television – and American culture – was changing right before our eyes. Television was generally a vast wasteland of laugh tracks and the occasional happy-ending dramedy. But “The Sopranos” raised the bar for narrative storytelling. Tony murdering a Mafia turncoat between stops on a college tour with his daughter, Meadow, shifted our standards on television violence. It paved the road for smart but graphic shows such as “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire” and even international hits like “Berlin Babylon.”

Before social media and online video services, “The Sopranos” succeeded on old-fashioned word of mouth and marketing. Viral was still a word associated with the flu. Streaming and binge-watching hadn’t entered our vocabulary. But because of the revolution that “The Sopranos” started, TV would displace film as our main conduit for entertainment.

Like most family milestones, it’s hard to believe that 20 years has passed since the first episode of “The Sopranos” aired. To celebrate the anniversary, festivals and other events are being planned, as is a prequel feature film. A dense, …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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