The Sopranos — Killer TV No 2

the-sopranos-blu-ray-finally-arrives

HBO, 1999-2007 (six series)

‘What fucking kind of human being am I, if my own mother wants me dead?’ – Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano), Lorraine Bracco (Dr Melfi), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts), Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante), Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano), Peter Bogdanovich (Dr Kupferberg)

Identikit: A mobster in therapy balances problems at home with running a New Jersey crime empire.


CREATOR David Chase had worked in network TV for 20 years (Rockford Files, Northern Exposure and others) before pay channel HBO came along offering the freedom to make this bold and multilayered chunk of television brilliance. The Sopranos was the first of the non-network series to show that TV could be better than the movies given the artistic scope and freedom from network TV’s puritanism and advertiser-sanctioned wholesomeness. From its opening moments it was clear The Sopranos would break and toy with mobster-genre conventions. Tony Soprano – the late James Gandolfini was shrewdly and bravely cast – has a panic attack and secretly starts seeing a shrink, a chink of potentially lethal vulnerability in a mob boss, but one allowing viewers to watch him go on to balance his criminal empire with the demands of family life – troublesome kids, ballsy wife and psychotic mother. Brilliant writers (Terence Winter, Robin Green and others), directors (Tim Van Patten, John Patterson) and guest stars (Annabella Sciorra, Ben Kingsley, Annette Bening, Steve Buscemi, Lauren Bacall) came together to magic up a drama that was controversial, parodied, analysed by academics and given a glut of awards – including 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes. The Sopranos became the show everyone in the mainstream networks wanted to work on, but despite the great talents who came on board, the prime influence was always David Chase’s. Tony’s monstrous mother, being in therapy, the New Jersey setting – all reflected the showrunner’s own experience. The result was a series of extraordinary episodes, such as College (Tony is shown to be no hero when he brutally strangles a former wiseguy), Pine Barrens (Paulie Walnuts and Christopher lose a ‘dead’ Russian and get lost themselves in the snowy forest), and Whitecaps (Tony and Carmela’s toxic break-up). It had superb dialogue and direction, surreal dreams, great music, tears and black humour – but ultimately The Sopranos served up a radical new style of weekly TV drama. It also finished with a dazzling, ambiguous flourish, with Tony and his family in a diner after a mob war has just concluded, causing the death or injury of his top lieutenants. A man who’s been staring at Tony in the diner then goes to the Gents, and daughter Meadow Soprano enters the restaurant as the screen abruptly cuts to a long black silence – and an unknown fate for the Sopranos. The fate of TV was known, however. It could be more complex, audacious and involving than it had ever been.

Classic episode: Long Term Parking – Adriana, Chris’s wife, was developed throughout the series. However, when she was forced to become an FBI informant, Chris was tempted to run away with her, but finally decided to tell Tony about her new friends. This led to her heartrending demise at the hands of Paulie.

Music: Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix) by Alabama 3

Watercooler fact: The Sopranos shared 27 actors with Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, including Lorraine Bracco (Tony’s shrink Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos, and Karen Hill in Goodfellas), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo/Billy Batts), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti/Spider), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts Gaultieri/Tony Stacks), Suzanne Shepard (Mary DeAngelis/Karen’s mother).

Shades of Blue, Jennifer Lopez

Shades of Blue Season 01 - Episode 01 'Pilot' Pictured: (l-r) Ray Liotta as Bill Wozniak, Jennifer Lopez as Detective Harlee Santos, Robbie Tann as Earl (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC) © 2016 NBCUniversal All Rights Reserved.

Watch out, he’s behind you – Ray Liotta as Bill Wozniak and Jennifer Lopez as Detective Harlee Santos

Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta hit the mean streets of New York as corrupt cops

★★★ Sky Living, starts Wednesday, 13 July, 9pm

SHADES OF BLUE wants to be a gritty cop show, but it comes out as grit-lite, a bit like a Glock handgun with the safety on.

Shades of Blue Season 01 - Episode 01 'Pilot' Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Lopez as Detective Harlee Santos (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC) © 2016 NBCUniversal All Rights Reserved.

Shooting star – Jennifer Lopez

Starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, it’s made by NBC, one of America’s mainstream networks, rather than the pay channels that produce most of today’s cutting-edge dramas, such as AMC (Breaking Bad), Netflix (Orange Is the New Black) and HBO (The Wire).

So, while Lopez and Liotta play corrupt New York detectives, they’re kinda nice with it. Liotta’s character, Matt Wozniak, does deals with drug gangs, but it’s not just about getting rich for Woz. He also arranges it so that the drug barons keep the dealers away from parks and schools.

JLo, Drea de Matteo and Ray Liotta

Shades of Blue Season 01 - Gallery Pictured: (l-r) Vincent Laresca as Tony Espada, Dayo Okeniyi as Michael Loman, Drea de Matteo as Tess Nazario, Ray Liotta as Bill Wozniak, Jennifer Lopez as Harlee Santos, Hampton Fluker as Patrick Tufo, Santino Fontana as Stuart Jeff Riedel/NBC © 2016 NBCUniversal All Rights Reserved.

Thin blue line – Vincent Laresca as Tony Espada, Dayo Okeniyi as Michael Loman, Drea de Matteo as Tess Nazario, Ray Liotta as Bill Wozniak, Jennifer Lopez as Harlee Santos, Hampton Fluker as Patrick Tufo, Santino Fontana as Stuart

And while Harlee Santos, JLo’s character, is also on the take, she needs the dough because she is putting her daughter through a fancy music school.

They are rogues rather than top-division baddies in the league of Walter White or Vic Mackey.

Still, Shades of Grey has its plus points. JLo is a decent actress, The Sopranos‘ Drea de Matteo is on hand as a streetwise detective, while Ray Liotta really gives the drama some power and menace. How strange that he made so few big movies and TV dramas after Goodfellas. [Read more…]

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