Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tony, Carmela, and the Boys

Writing in Commentary, Benjamin A. Plotinsky explores the appeal of The Sopranos. An excerpt:

The Sopranos, created and produced by David Chase (The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure), has done far more than change the lexicon. Probably no series in the history of television has garnered more extravagant praise. The Chicago Tribune calls it “the most influential television drama ever”; Vanity Fair, closely echoed by papers like the Detroit Free Press and the Dallas Morning News, sees it simply as “the greatest show in TV history”; upping the ante, the New York Times has judged that The Sopranos “may be the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter-century.” The industry has agreed, showering the series with Emmys, Golden Globes, and Peabodys.

How to explain this phenomenal success? Begin with the main characters—outsized but believable, grotesque but familiar, each a unique concoction of lusts, ambitions and, above all, lies. The main character is, of course, the mob boss Tony Soprano, who at the start of every episode drives west out of Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel. While the opening credits roll, the sequence takes Tony down the New Jersey Turnpike, past Newark Airport and the industrial wasteland of northern Jersey, into run-down Newark—we see the old butcher shop where Tony’s thugs congregate, and also a tiny boxlike pizza store—and then past rows of modest houses that eventually give way to a lushly forested road. The sequence ends as Tony pulls into the driveway of his suburban McMansion, gets out of his SUV with a scowl, and slams the door shut.

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