The Sopranos 25th Anniversary Retrospective – jump back into Tony Soprano’s world

Posted on 10 January 2024
By Pratham Bhagudia
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Smash hit Mafia drama The Sopranos premiered on American TV exactly 25 years ago today (Weds) on HBO and has captivated audiences worldwide ever since. It’s still very much part of the cultural zeitgeist, despite ending 16 years ago.

Over the course of 8 years and 6 seasons we were hardwired into Tony Soprano’s world. A different kind of television hero (a murderous mob boss who suffers with depression and anxiety) and the colourful characters who revolve around him.

From his blundering associates, stress-inducing family, the ever-watchful law enforcers, and fiery jilted lovers, none of them make Tony’s life any easier.

The show depicts the mafia in New Jersey as a decaying husk, far from the glory days of the Godfather, but a world filled with petty drama and betrayal and murder over the most minor subject.

In what was a daring move and only in episode 5, we see main protagonist Tony brutally garrotte an enemy. It’s hard to expect any watcher to be able to identify with such a cold blooded killer after that scene, but this is where the show succeeds in surprising ways.

Compared with today where long form TV shows dominate the media landscape, in 1999, TV was seen as cheap and light entertainment. Film actors wanted nothing to do with it, they thought the medium of television was a step down for their career.

Now we have Succession, Breaking Bad, The Wire and Peaky Blinders, all critically acclaimed shows where the protagonist occupies a moral grey area. This would not have been possible without the Sopranos.

At its core, The Sopranos is a fine character study of human nature. In the first season we are shown how Tony struggles to balance the conflict of being a family man, who wants the best for his children and a cold-blooded killer, who sometimes must even kill (or ‘whack’) those closest to him, if the situation demands it. 

The late James Gandolfini made Tony Soprano a larger than life character, not just in his dialogue but also in his mannerisms and body language. You could tell from his face whether a character would live or die. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role.

The women in Tony’s life also play a pivotal role in his development, from domineering Mother Livia and his wife Carmella. Edie Falco does an excellent job, portraying a woman who wants to be a good mother to her kids, while dealing with the guilt of how her husband is able to provide for them and his many marital indiscretions, that come back to the surface. 

Psychologist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Braco) is both captivated and empathetic to his struggles, while horrified at his actions. Whilst giving the audience an anchor to identify with.

My personal standout character is Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), Tony’s Nephew and prime candidate to reach the top in the future. 

He goes from angry, brash hot head to a man broken by despair and addiction after giving up the one thing he loved, to appease Tony.

Wise-cracking second in command Paulie Walnuts Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) provides some of the show’s humor and is easily one of the most quotable characters. 

The 2001-episode Pine Barrens, where the two get lost in the woods on a job gone wrong, is a fan favourite. 

A personal favourite of mine is the psychopathic Ralph Ciffaretto (Joe Pantolonio) whose morbidness is enchanting to the viewer.

The show doesn’t just focus on the usual Mafia topics but also tackles Racism, Sexuality, Family dynamics and toxic masculinity, all in a way that can be humorous but make the viewer think about the issue. 

One episode we can feel sympathetic to a character and another we can absolutely loathe their existence. 

One word of advice to any new watcher is not to get too attached to any one character, as they could easily be whacked at the drop of a hat. 

There are also some amazing surrealist dream sequences that have an almost Lynchian fever dream quality about them. 

If you haven’t watched the Sopranos, find a copy on physical media or on HBO Max and become part of the family.