In terms of writing (“What, like the Flintstones?”) and acting, “The Sopranos” is obviously one of the best shows ever to air. It’s largely responsible for establishing a norm on premium cable in which writers are really allowed to do their thing. We see the effect in shows like “Dexter” and “Deadwood.” Although these shows might have serious flaws, they frequently exhibit writing of a craft and subtlety usually reserved for low-grossing films. But everyone pretty much agrees on all of that. The point of this piece is to highlight some serious problems with “The Sopranos” that are ignored by most critics like Karl Rove at his senior prom.
First off, the fundamental premise of the show — that it presents a general study of the life of Tony and his family — is dumb. If you’ve ever listened to an interview with a guy like Henry Hill or heard FBI recordings of mob conversations, you know that these guys are stupider than the offspring of Jessica Simpson and a gorilla. They’re almost too stupid to really be considered sociopaths. If portrayed realistically, Tony would be a big, sweaty slob who has not developed at all since he was rolling kids for their lunch money in school. I’m certainly not one of those tools who thinks that all protagonists should be “sympathetic.” But why the fuck would I want to sit in on tens of hours of therapy with this goombah? If the show were honest, the sessions would be the puny thoughts and reflections of a functionally illiterate goon. If the show is being dishonest, I don’t want to see that either.
The same thing goes for the home front. I have no problem with the personal lives of gangsters serving as a backdrop for the action, as in Casino or Goodfellas. But, again, I don’t need hour upon hour of the details of of Soprano family life. Will Tony’s shrill, dago cunt of a wife successfully remodel a home in between squawking for more blood money and dodging culpability? I do not give a fuck! I’ve long felt that the mob wife is a perfect symbol for the moral laziness so common in the U.S She wants her fur coat and is willing to close her eyes to the fact that an innocent man died to give it to her. When the basis of her luxury is revealed starkly, she will claim innocence. You and I want cheap gas, and if some random brown people have to be flayed with white phosphorous to get it, well, shit, we didn’t really know about it, so it’s not our fault. But if gas prices rise, we sure as hell are going to bitch about it. Interesting, but Scorsese can paint the same picture in a few minutes. There’s no real reason to spend hours on some dingbat mob wife unless you are asking me to make an emotional investment with her and feel some sense of empathy with the cunt. No sale.
It is this lack of psychological realism, manifested in the characters and expected of the viewers, that prevents the show from even approaching the mob epics of Scorsese and Coppola. Is “The Sopranos” a very clever show? Sure. A bit ironically, the seamless homages to Raging Bull and The Godfather in the final episode are vestment to that fact. I have to point out, however, that the little parallels to current events and trends never impressed me. ”Hey, we’re at war in Iraq, and they’re at war in Iraq!” Whatever. Unfortunately, no matter how clever you are, your shit still has to add up.