Rating: 9 out of 10.

WARNING: There will be SPOILERS – I’ve probably not said this enough recently but in all my reviews I can pretty much guarantee a spoiler, and there are loads in this one – merry Christmas, by the way!

Oh, goody. The Sopranos – the greatest series… ever? Lets delve a little deeper.

First of all, I’d like to apologise for not doing a series by series review – unfortunately, I started watching the show before starting the blog, so I decided it would be better to just do an overall review.

Where to begin? The Sopranos is a mafia based tale about a depressed, stressed out mob boss who decides to turn to a therapist for help with his family and his family. It’s six series long, which we’ll come back to later, and widely heralded as being up there with the best.

Now, I’d like to make a little tribute to James Gandolfini. This is probably the best performance of any actor of any character I’ve ever seen. His portrayal of Tony Soprano is incredible. His acting alone could have made The Sopranos a hit, and his acting alone could have made HBO the powerhouse it is today. He will be forever remembered as Tony Soprano after an untimely death at only 51 in Rome – a real loss to the acting world.

But more on the show. It’s hard to get in depth without looking at it just as a singular series, but I’ll give it a go. The first two series of The Sopranos are… iffy. They take a while to get going. Nothing really happens that gets you stuck in there and gripped. There isn’t a particular character that I was attracted to and wanted to see what happened with them – well, maybe apart from Paulie Gualtieri (Tony Sirico). If you ask me for notable events in the first two series, I can only really think of Artie Bucco (John Ventimigilia) confronting Tony after his restaurant burns down, or perhaps right at the end of series two when Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro) kills Richie Aprile (David Proval), right out of nowhere. It’s a brilliant bit of writing, and I think it’s the first piece of action that really kickstarts The Sopranos into action. The other major event is, of course, the attempted assassination on Tony by his mother, Livia (Nancy Marchand) and uncle, Junior (Dominic Chianese), which shows off how insane and broken this family is. Junior’s senility and eventual Alzheimers feels like extreme punishment for this action, as if there is a link to Livia being in the nursing home at the time. Into season three.

Unlike nasty, overly ambitious and evil Richie, who you definitely dislike as the main antagonist in series two, Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) is an absolute lunatic with zero morals and every bad characteristic you could possibly have in a human being. Richie is a self centred, entitled and irrational, but Ralph is the man who kills a young dancer from the Bada Bing, pregnant with his child, whip a innocent man’s eyes out with a chain, make jokes at a funeral, burns down a stable to kill Tony’s favourite horse he is beginning to have a close affiliation with, threatens to kill a young child who accidentally hit his son with a spear, gets Jackie Jr. killed… oh, I could go on. If even Janice realises you’re a bad person, there is something seriously wrong.

But at the same time, I love Ralph. He’s very funny, very well acted and despicable. He keeps you interested in every episode he’s in and every action he partakes. Personally, my favourite villain in The Sopranos, and, in all honesty, probably killed off too quickly. You can’t hate Ralphie, even if he is one of the worst people ever seen on TV.

Series three also has the famed “Pine Barrens” – but I’ll save that till later. It goes off with a bang, and sets up the next two to thrive. Personally, series three is not only the best series in The Sopranos, but maybe one of the best individual seasons ever.

Four and five are also excellent, apart from the fact that it maybe feels a bit formulaic – everyone is happy at the start, then a former member comes out of jail and wants back in, destroying the harmony and eventually leading to big problems that are summed up in the climax, with them usually being killed.

The Sopranos must be praised for it’s more minor or third string characters. Compared to Breaking Bad, they have far more depth and are more well rounded – compare Adriana to Jane, or Vito to Todd, or Tuco to Ralph, or Walter Jr. to AJ… I could go on.

But then there’s the sixth season. Unfortunately, at this point, it does feel like the show is running out of steam, and perhaps HBO have just done it for more than just the enjoyment of the audience – there are 21 episodes in this series instead of 13. The first half is quite dull, with tensions slightly increasing. There are interesting plots going on there – Paulie’s mother and cancer, Uncle Junior in the mental health institute, Meadow’s relationship – that just dwindle away and aren’t taken advantage of. We more focus on Vito’s sexuality and Phil and Tony’s rivalry. There are loose ends that need tying by the end, but it feels like maybe they took the easy way out.

The second half I really enjoyed. Some heart wrenching deaths of some of our favourite characters and a real advancement to the final episode. The penultimate episode – “The Blue Comet”, the name of Bobby’s favourite train he is about to buy – is one of the best, and we’re all set for a bloody and violent finale.

Unfortunately, if you’ve already watched it, you know I’ve been disappointed. The Sopranos has perhaps one of the most contentious endings of a series. The last episode isn’t great anyhow, but just zooming into the last scene and the question – does Tony die?

Well, as the series main antihero, we all wanted him to die. Tony was beginning to die inside, you feel, and morally corrupt. He had been forced out of therapy, killed Christopher, beaten up his depressed son, visited the dying Silvio once, lost loads of money on gambling and at his most sociopathic.

Personally, I think he does, although it’s more of a symbolic one. We continuously hear a bell ring as people enter and Tony glances up paranoid. There are many references to The Godfather throughout the series, and we see a man stare straight at the Soprano family before heading into the toilet, where of course Michael gets the gun in one of the most famous scenes of all time. Whether that man killed Tony or not doesn’t matter, but it seems to be a deliberate attempt to hint at his death.

Furthermore, Bobby – whose death seems to make Tony his worst – foreshadows when they are sitting on the boat together, “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” We see an example when Silvio doesn’t even realise a man he is having dinner with is shot till blood hits his face. At the end, everything is black and silent, as Tony seemingly dies.

Butch, Phil’s second in command, also says he want’s ‘compensation’ for Phil’s death. No one is whacked in the final episode, apart from, well, Tony? Chase devotes so much time to this final scene that it makes it so nerve wracking, but if it was Meadow coming through that door, what’s the point? Tony will die. Maybe not in this scene. But Tony will die. The decline of the family is painfully obvious – by the end Chris, Silvio, Bobby, Ralph, Pussy, Junior are all dead or dying – there’s only Paulie left.

The final scene is also shot from entirely Tony’s point of view, apart from Meadow parking the car. Chase was openly disgusted by people who liked Tony Soprano and cheered him on. He felt it was an appropriate ending to let the audience face the same final consequences as Tony did.

When The Sopranos has its highs, it is very high – near a ten. But when, more often than not, it doesn’t, the series can drag and feel boring. Slug through the first two series and you will be pleasantly rewarded, but an ambiguous ending feels like a lack of brave writing that is required in this situation. In Breaking Bad, Walter dies and we have closure. In The Sopranos… well, they leave it up to you.

Whether you agree with my theory or not, David Chase explains the whole point of the scene is not that Tony dies or survives, but that life precious and can end at any moment.

Favourite character: This changed season from season, with Paulie at the start, then Ralph, and Junior and Hesh deserve honourable mentions, but I eventually landed on Bobby Baccalieri. The nicest of the mobsters although it’s a contradiction of terms. He isn’t involved with the goomahs or the murders, apart from Tony puts him up to one for punishment. He is soft souled and big hearted and his gruesome death is one of the worst.

Least favourite character: There’s a lot of options here, but I’ll go for the Soprano children – Meadow and AJ. They give their parents both a hard time, and if one of them isn’t being painfully rude, the other is. I liked AJ at the start, and I didn’t like Meadow, and by the end I hated AJ and didn’t mind Meadow. It’s like a balance scale. Also a shout out to Tony’s mother, Livia Soprano, who suffered from a borderline personality disorder, but was probably just a psychopath.

Favourite series: Series 3, as I’ve already said. Gets the show moving quickly and kicks it off with a bang. Without it, I think I might of given The Sopranos an 8.

Best episode: Pine Barrens. Christopher and Paulie endure a scary but hilarious journey in South Jersey, where I believe Paulie turns for the worst, Jackie Jr. arouses suspicions and loses some friends and Tony and Gloria’s soon-to-be-toxic relationship hits it’s first rocks.

The Sopranos – 9 out of 10

8 Comments

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I first saw James Gandolfini in the 1997 TV remake of 12 Angry Men. He impressed me a lot in that and he was indeed great in The Sopranos.

    Liked by 1 person

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