Got yourself a gun


In the beginning, there was Martin Scorsese.

With films such as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Scorsese brought to the screen a new kind of crime drama: tough, realistic, unflinching. You could see it all: All the misery, all the human pettiness, all the violence, in all their horrible glory. That wasn’t done for shock value, but to serve as an honest portrayal of time and space. Scorsese grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York and knew violence and crime from first hand. Scorsese doesn’t lie. He tells it like it is.

And then came Goodfellas.

Scorsese’s masterpiece from 1990 about a rising star in the ranks of the Irish mob in New York had a very big influence on one David Chase, a TV writer and producer for shows like the Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, who wanted to create a series of his own which will tell the story of a New Jersey crime boss in the Italian mafia. At first, Chase tried to sell the idea to the networks, but failed. Then he tried it with the the premium cable network HBO, which was interested in developing more original content of its own.

I’m quite certain that if The Sopranos would’ve ended up in one of the networks, it wouldn’t be what it is today. The cable venue allowed Chase to create his series as realistic as possible, and was given creative carte blanche by HBO to develop his vision as he sees fit.

And so, on january 10th, 1999, The Sopranos appeared for the first time on HBO subscribers TV screens. And the rest, as thay say, is history.

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Even those who don’t watch The Sopranos (but aren’t clueless when it comes to television) know the general premise: Tony Soprano, mob boss and family man, struggles to balance his business life with his family life. He is a working man who happens to be a criminal, and when he suffers a panic attack, he starts seeing a female shrink. But The Sopranos is so much more then a blurb or a logline.

Thanks to James Gandolfini’s masterful portarail and the sharp, exquisite writing of David Chase and his team of gifted scribes, Tony Soprano is not only one of the greatest characters on TV, but one of the greates characters in filmed entertainment. 

A man of startling contradictions. He can be soft and gentle one minute, and violent and furious the next. His inner struggles with his demons – his domineering mother, the influence of his occupation on his children- among many others, are dealt with honesty and realism almost unparalleled on TV.  Surrounded by a great host of supporting characters, each one of them rounded, each one of them with its own set of dilemmas, conflicts and quirks, The Sopranos boasts some of the greatest characters on TV, with fabulous actors to portray them. The acting on this show is so natural, so unobtrusive, you quickly forget these are actors and not real people.

Some have trouble with the violence. That’s a valid claim, but one must consider a very important thing: The Sopranos is not a show about tough mafia guys who enjoy killing. Murder Is all just part of the business. It’s nothing special, nobody particularly likes it. With the exception of maybe Ralph Cifarretto, there are no sociopath hoodlums on The Sopranos. (Although Christopher Moltisanti sometimes teeters on the brink).

The extremley violent scenes on this show are few and far between, but like in scorcese’s case (who basically did very few violent films throughout his carrer, but these are the films everyone remembers), their reputation far exceeds them. In actuality, much of the violence in The Sopranos is done off camera, although that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

The story arcs are weaved through each season meticulously and ingeniously, creating a rich tapestry of Shakespearean proportions about the most basic human emotions and staples: love, honor, revenge, friendship and loyalty, to name a just a few.

It is a show about family, about doing the right thing for your family. One of the most interesting subjects of the show is Tony’s continuous effort to shield his children from his world, which is quite a herculean task. Tony’s wife, Carmela (an amazing Edie Falco) loves and hates her husband at the same time. Her role alone could merit a whole lengthy post of its own.

In terms of visual and style, The Sopranos is far from run-of-the-mill TV fodder. It is shot and directed in a highly cinematic way. It utilizes the best of both worlds: The ability to develop stories and characters in a series format, and the cinematic style of films like Goodfellas. Again, This is not the romanticized mafia family of The Godfather (a movie which Tony and his friends love, naturally, and even quote from extensively, especially in the first two seasons), but the gritty, realistic world of the Scorcese crime drama.

The last season of The Sopranos (or the second half of the sixth) will air on April, putting the cap on this marvelous journey. In a world where FBI informers are the lowest life form there is, where people can order a hit because of an insulting joke, where a mafia boss goes to a shrink but can never really tell her everything about him, where mistresses (or goomas) are part of the norm, and murder is part of the business, The sopranos live in a parralel universe which we find facsinating to look at, but would never want to be a part of.

                                          

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