When the series The Sopranos premiered in January 1999, no one could imagine the success that its story would transform into. He didn’t just rebuild the crime and mob genre from the ground up. It also created a new perception of good and evil on television that is still current.
The Sopranos wasn’t just a series about criminals. It was an intelligent and powerful tour of the morals of our time. With mobsters capable of killing but suffering from anxiety attacks, the quintessential antihero made its way to television. One also to whom James Gandolfini provided a painful, sometimes cruel and even terrifying humanity.
The triumph of The Sopranos was to speak about good and evil through symbols
The Sopranos was more than a series. It was a bold narrative experiment that realized that television had changed. And that also laid the foundation for all the amazing premises that HBO would develop in the future. With its world of shades and chiaroscuro there is something nihilistic about this battle of identical forces. On the one hand, the notion of the family, and on the other, organized crime as part of that concept.
Unlike the classic Coppola’s Godfather or Scorsese’s extraordinary looks at the world of crime, The Sopranos series was all about practicality. Tony Soprano had to survive in a time when the mafia, with all its political and cultural weight, was only a lesser evil. And that in the midst of street disputes and strategies that could well end in death. All while dealing with his identity as a father and husband. All while the world around him sped forward and made him the center of something greater.
The triumph of The Sopranos was to speak about good and evil through symbols. Tony, exhausted, enraged and increasingly ruthless, became an emblematic figure. One that gave rise to so many unclassifiable antiheroes in a cynical time. From Walter White from Breaking Bad to Barry from the series of the same name. Evil was never the same once Tony Soprano embodied it in a Machiavellian way.
‘The Sopranos’, where family is always family
Beyond its benefits as a series and brilliant plot, The Sopranos is a look at the family. Both the domestic inside a luxurious house and the one that creates crime. It is the same concept as The Godfather, but taken to a more practical, cynical and less elegant level. But that dirty, criminal and shameless version of the fact of the criminal is what gives the series its rare personality.
Tony Soprano does not pretend to be an evil and manipulative creature of the size of Vito Corleone, but rather that he is a normal man. One in the extraordinary situation of linking blood, love, hate, and criminal gain to his life. But also, the HBO series had the audacity to encompass all that to love, hate, greed, lust, power and loyalty. The result is a history of hundreds of layers of different which, without forgetting the fact that The Sopranos is a story about the mafia, it is also about the time.
The show also took advantage of Bush’s America, its moral and spiritual hypocrisy
The mafia is often viewed as a criminal organization with political, cultural and family overtones. Or at least that’s how it has happened in its pop culture journey. The Sopranos took the bold step of breaking that concept down and taking it to a new level. Capitalist and corporate America intermingled with a historic criminal organization in the world. It is this perception of violence that is the true identity of the series. In The Sopranos, the identity of the mafia as an entity and that which provokes the contemporary world are two sides of the same monster. And that duality is one of the great achievements of the series.
Of course, the show also took advantage of Bush’s America, his moral and spiritual hypocrisy. He delved into the fact of good and evil from a hardness and coldness hitherto unknown in the world of television. From a distance, it is astonishing how The Sopranos carefully weave together the perception of crime as an intimate fact. Evil is everywhere, but it is also part of something greater. As Tony Soprano himself would say: “I am strong because I need to be”. That, holding a gun and thinking about his next therapy session.
A legacy for history
The nineties were a lucky decade for series. Seinfeld, with his cynical outlook on the everyday, smashed canons and became a hit by its unclassifiable nature. The series was not about “nothing”, which was to say that it was an X-ray of existential boredom and cynicism at the end of the century.
But The Sopranos went the other way. They opened all the plot threads of their history to analyze mean and cruel America. They also did so under the insistent connotation about the condition of human nature.
Tony Soprano was a patriarch. A powerful man capable of killing, one feared and respected for his cruelty. But it could also be one swept away by fear, fear, and unmet needs. From the psychiatrist’s chair he was so vulnerable that just admitting his weakness made him a target. A victim of the very world he had helped create.
The Soprano Legacy is extensive. But in reality, it also lies in the essential importance of something concrete. Tony’s depression and anxiety seems to be a cruel joke in a world where toughness and cruelty are demanded. Everything has a double meaning in a series that is governed by its own laws. In a story destined not to give simple answers.