Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Sopranos In Retrospect

Yes, this is not a band or an album. The Sopranos was the most important television show of my childhood that I never watched. In 1999, my mother and I lived in our three bedroom/two bathroom house with red carpets and popping linoleum, and we had two twenty inch televisions. The living room TV had a missing button, and you could only go up through the channels rather than back and forth. We did not have a larger TV until 2003, I think. I never had a satellite dish or expanded digital cable growing up (still don't), so we never watched HBO unless our cable company gave us some sort of weekend preview.

Instead, we watched highlights of The Sopranos on Entertainment Tonight. My mother loved ET, and we heard more about the show through my uncle's drunken ramblings at holiday dinners. Before this summer, I knew that the show centered around Tony Sopranos, who is the head of the mob, and he had a wife, two kids, and a therapist. That is all I knew before James Gandolfini died.

I did not know about Gandolfini's death until KidBehindaCamera made a video about it, calling The Sopranos the "best show of all time." After six years of the show being off-air, I decided to finally see what the hype was about.

When I was younger, I loved mob/mafia movies. What little I saw, mostly through Goodfellas and whatever was on television, I had built the Italian crime organization up in my head as positive. Somewhere in my teen years, I unconsciously gave up this idea, recognizing that the mafia is bad. We romanticize these criminals, but they are people like the rest of us. The media portrays every criminal, to the kid caught with pot to the man accused of murder, as a monster. Trial by media; we assume that people charged with crimes are guilty before their trial even begins. Innocent people are put away in some cases, and the guilty roam free.

Needless to say, I was not looking forward to Sopranos, but I kept an open mind. The first season was okay. I was not blown away, but I liked the show. The season season was strange and somewhat surreal, but the show quickly returned to more realistic elements in the third season. However, by the third season, I need to finish the entire series. The Sopranos was not just a show; it was a six season film.

Shows like Twin Peaks came too early. Networks like ABC, NBC, and CBS caught onto what people really wanted too late (and they still don't get it), but audiences were not ready until The Sopranos. The idea of having a long dramatic series that took time to analyze each character and make you feel some emotional attachment to them was unreal when Twin Peaks came on the air. Obviously, shows like All in the Family, Cheers, and The Cosby Show had well developed characters that you cared about, but their lives were contained within a thirty minute airing period. By the time "Don't Stop Believing" started playing in the diner, I was not ready for this show to end.

Let me give you my perspective on the final show from when it originally aired. I didn't watch much TV, I had grown up with Journey and didn't need to hear "Don't Stop Believing" ever again, and all of a sudden, everyone was talking about the infamous last scene and their disappointment. Already, without having ever watched The Sopranos, I knew how it ended. Then "Don't Stop Believing" became relevant again, despite being the most dated piece of shit that could ever come back from the dead. It made no sense. Here I was, listening to The Smiths, Pantera, Metallica, and whatever else I had in my portable CD player, and this song from my childhood came out of no where. People sang it in school, wore Journey shirts, Glee did a version, and I was in the middle of all of it. I would have been just as screwed if The Best of the Eagles came into vogue again.

But when I watched James Gandolfini scroll through the miniature jukebox and select "Don't Stop Believing," I cried. All of the six seasons, hours and hours of my life, led up to this moment. Hell, over ten years of my life led up to this moment.

Then the show was over. Was it the best ever? No. Did it impact and entertain me? Yes. I still wonder what happened to Tony and his family. Did he live or die? What would either mean for his wife and children? To his larger family? Sure, he murdered people and all that jazz, but I knew him. When he was in coma, dreaming of himself lost in a foreign place without an identity, I experienced the grief and confusion along with his family and friends. So, even with the ending in the back of my mind, I came to love some of these people?

If you have never watched The Sopranos, I suggest you make some time for all six seasons. It never jumped the shark like Dexter or Twin Peaks; it was a constant, real evolution of people. I do not know if I will ever watch the entire series again, but I already have all those moments going through my mind.
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