Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Television Series Review: The Sopranos
I've never been a big fan of "mafia movies". I've seen The Godfather once, ages ago, and I've only seen the sequel in pieces. I don't really care for Goodfellas or Casino or many other mafia-related movies either, because I've always felt they glamorize organized crime way too much, even when things go badly for the characters (as they so often do). Because of this, I refused to watch The Sopranos for years, thinking it would be more of the same, even though many of my friends insisted I'd enjoy the series.
When I finally took the plunge and began watching, I understood what all the fuss was about. The show covers the period of 1999 to 2007, and is a very "post-modern" look at the world of the Mafia. Gone are the days of Vito Corleone holding court in a mansion with guards patrolling the grounds. Tony and his "crew" do business out of the back of a seedy strip club along some boring stretch of road in New Jersey. Tony lives in a completely generic "McMansion", his kids are spoiled brats, his wife hounds him about picking up milk and bread on the way home, and of course, Tony has to see a therapist, like everyone else these days.
Tony's relationship with his shrink is probably the most unique aspect of the series. In many ways, Dr. Melfi is the viewer's surrogate; her questions and reactions to the things Tony says and does are, essentially, our own. As Dr. Melfi's relationship with Tony becomes more complicated, and she becomes more fascinated with the criminal underworld he operates within and the power he wields, we the viewers begin to realize that we hold that same level of fascination.
And yet, at the same time, Melfi's objective detachment also mirrors our own. Tony Soprano and the organization he represents is a long way from the heady days of Prohibition-era organized crime. These are gangsters who've grown up brainwashed by their own Hollywood-conceived mythology. Wiseguys sit around quoting gangster movies and making pop culture references, and Christopher (Tony's nephew/cousin) is obsessed with becoming a writer or movie-maker, constantly scribbling semi-literate attempts at his own Mafia-inspired crime fiction. Christopher's story emphasizes the way in which his generation within the Mafia is but a faint shadow of the organization's glory days.
It isn't necessarily by coincidence that I watched The Sopranos while working on my vigilante revenge thriller, Killer Instincts. The main character's family is killed by a small Boston Mafia crime syndicate, and it is made clear that the family is one of the last gasps of Mafia-based organized crime in the City, the rest having been hunted down by the FBI or shoved aside by other organized criminal elements such as the Russian or Irish mobs. While we don't really spend any time in the heads of the Mafia characters, it is clear that they are also, in one way or another, deluded by their own mythology.
Having said all that, I almost feel like a hypocrite for enjoying the series so much, but because you end the series almost pitying Tony and his friends, rather than admiring them, I think it is a messily realistic look at these modern-day Mafiosi.