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The Sopranos – "Oh Poor You!"

By Bert Ehrmann
2006-03-20 – The Sopranos has retuned to television after a hiatus of nearly two years and life is good.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over seven years since The Sopranos first premiered on HBO in 1999. Back then; HBO already had one hit on their hands with Sex and the City but up until that point, the network’s original programming was known as having a slightly risqué bent. Even HBO’s horror anthology series Tales from the Crypt featured ample amounts of nudity.

But with the premieres of both Sex and the City and six months later with The Sopranos, HBO’s fortunes began to change and today HBO is known as a haven for excellent/ realistic drama.

To be perfectly honest, when The Sopranos first aired, I didn’t get it. I kept wondering why, if this was a mob show, so much time was spent with Tony’s family, and his extended mob family? I was expecting something more akin to The Untouchables (1987) but this was something different.

It wasn’t until HBO re-ran the entire first season sometime later that I caught onto what was going on, and from that point have been (mostly) a fan of the show since.

The early seasons of The Sopranos focused on Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) thrust into power after the unexpected death of the family “boss.” Tony was forced to manage the day to day trails of running a mob family while also dealing with his own at-home family, his own psychological problems, an Uncle out to kill him and an overbearing mother (Nancy Marchand) who’s favorite line was, “Oh, poor you.” (To call The Sopranos “layered” would be an understatement.)

After the real-life death of Marchand between the second and third seasons, much of the storyline shifted to Tony dealing with his own impending divorce, the arrival of his sister and changing times in the mob world.

Still, The Sopranos is not a perfect series. Over the last few seasons I have been less drawn to it than in previous years. I’m not sure if I’m not connecting to the stories or if the ever-lengthening gap between seasons is beginning to hurt the series for me.

Episodes of The Sopranos are released in anything but a timely manner. Between the first few seasons, there was a nine-month gap, but since then, fans have had to wait nearly two years between new episodes. It’s almost as if the show is constantly being canceled, brought back to life and then canceled again. It’s a rough road to travel trying to follow The Sopranos.

Most shows would never survive that much length between new episodes, but somehow The Sopranos manages to soldier on.

But there’s not much else to complain about. Series creator David Chase seems to still be at the top of his game, spending all of his professional time working on The Sopranos. Chase is one of those “overnight sensations” who spent a career writing for shows like The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure before creating The Sopranos.

One of the more important aspects of The Sopranos phenomenon is that it paved the way for a slew of excellent series all willing to take risks. If The Sopranos had failed, I suspect that none of the dramas on HBO like Deadwood, Six Feet Under or The Wire would ever have existed. And my guess is that shows like 24 and The Shield airing on other networks, which seem to borrow themes from The Sopranos, wouldn’t exist either.

This current season of The Sopranos marks the beginning of the end of the series. Twelve episodes of the show will air this season, and a final eight more will close out the series early next year.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how the series will end. My own personal opinion has Tony Soprano arrested for his crimes and jailed with his nephew Chris (Michael Imperioli) taking over Tony’s role as boss. But it wouldn’t surprise in the least me if Chase chose to close out his great American drama in some other fashion.

Only time, and David Chase, will tell.