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).

Third degree – Sam Millar

Belfast crime-writing ace Sam Millar is the first novelist to be hauled down to 
crimetimepreview headquarters for questioning. Sam has published six novels, 
including The Redemption and The Darkness of Bones, as well as the 
award-winning memoir On the Brinks. Here he reveals how Sean Penn 
might have portrayed him on the big screen…
 
Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
 
Life on Mars. I was totally hooked from the very first show. One of those 
rare classics that only hits our screen every decade, if we’re lucky.
 
 
Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
 
Always loved The Sopranos, but then came the brilliant The Wire, and
knocked them off the top of my list. 


Top TV cop?
 
Columbo. Oh, one more thing...
 
 
Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
 
Er, my Karl Kane series of books, which accidentally, are being considered 
as we speak by Carnival Films. Sorry for such grovelling self-promotion.
 
 
If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
 
Liam Neeson, would be the obvious choice, as Karl Kane is a Belfast PI. 
But when Warner Brothers bought the rights to my memoir, On The Brinks
they were looking at Sean Penn to play me, which I found slightly bizarre, 
if highly complimentary.
 
 
What do you watch with a guilty conscience?
 
Mad Men. I hate smoking and sexism, but I’ve become totally addicted 
to the show and all its vices and non-pc jargon.
 
 
Least favourite cop show/thriller?
 
Heartbeat. A paradox title for a show with very few actors’ hearts 
actually beating.
 
 
Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?
 
The Wire (sorry, Big Tony).
 
 
Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?
 
Poirot.


Wallender – BBC or the original Swedish version?
 
The Swedish version. I find it grittier, even though fellow Belfastian, 
Kenneth Branagh is in the BBC adaptation and doing a fine job.
 
 
Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
 
So many great ones, it’s hard to be selective. Cormac McCarthy, 
Nelson DeMille, Jon Land, Declan Hughes, and two powerful crime 
writers to watch out for in the future: Leigh Russell (Road Closed
and James Thompson (Snow Angels). 
 
 
Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
 
Graham Greene. Timeless writing.
 
 
Favourite crime movie or thriller?
 
 
I have two. No Country for Old Men, even though it wasn’t 
half as good as the book, and The Long Good Friday, arguably 
the best British gangster movie ever made, for my money.
 
 
 
You’ve been framed for murder. Which 
fictional detective do you want to call up?
 
Jim Rockford. He mightn’t get me off, but 
he’s cheap!

Sam Millar’s latest Karl Kane novel is 

‘The Dark Place’
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