Can We Finally Admit The Sopranos Wasn’t That Great?

Back when it debuted, HBO’s The Sopranos arguably ushered in the so-called second golden age of television. It was groundbreaking. It was unlike anything ever shown on the small screen.

It’s also not as good as you remember it.

Now that we’ve had time to process the awful finale and seen the shows that came in its wake—which, all due respect (as the mobsters would say), would never have existed without Tony and his gang—we can fairly judge The Sopranos for its place in the history of TV and admit that the show had some major flaws. 

Now, there are those who still cling to the old gang. Most recently, Rolling Stone magazine put The Sopranos at the top of their 100 Greatest TV Shows list. And really, is there any better arbiter of what is the most current, most cutting edge entertainment than Rolling Stone? (Yes.)

Here’s what we should all admit—the show got out to a great start, ducks in the pool and all, and then it became uneven, to put it kindly. Part of the shift came from the unexpected and tragic death of Nancy Marchand, who played Tony’s mother. The whole premise of the show centered around Tony’s therapy due to his Mommy issues. Take the mom out of the equation and you have a show set adrift that never quite made it back to shore.

First, we were subjected to that awful, awkward episode where they recycled old scenes and outtakes of Marchand into a cobbled-together mess intended to give some sort of closure to the character. It didn’t work, and they would have been better off letting her pass away off screen and then dealing with it. Other actors have died mid-show and nobody tried the embarrassing cut and paste job The Sopranos did.

That brings us to Dr. Melfi. Poor, underused Dr. Melfi. The dynamic between Tony and his therapist set the tone for what was not your daddy’s mob show. Something deeper was at work here. Lorraine Bracco was excellent as the therapist put in an ethical dilemma with her mob boss client. And then, the reason for his therapy vanished. Did they redirect the show? Did they fire Dr. Melfi as Tony surely would have? No. They kept her around, using her in fewer and fewer scenes as the series wore on. She became marginalized, pointless, and a waste of talent.

When faced with the question of what to do with this character who has no point anymore, they took one easy route. Sexual assault! Why not? When in doubt with what to do with a female character, there’s always rape. 

Then, in a defining example of the second half of The Sopranos run, what could have been a compelling, complicated storyline was half-heartedly dealt with and then quickly dismissed as if the writers lost interest once the act had been completed to our beloved Dr. It made her tokenism even more obvious when she had truly nothing at all to do after that for the rest of the series.

The writers seemed to grow bored with their own characters quite often in the later episodes. And although they weren’t shy about killing them off, which often gave us the most effective and well-crafted episodes, they fell victim to a habit that affects far too many shows that get multiple seasons—for every character they kill off, three new ones replace them.

The inner workings of Tony’s mind was the hook that got us all to fall in love with the New Jersey mobsters. The inner workings of mob politics in the tri-state area became the writers obsession, and there is no way to keep track of the dense politics, overabundance of characters, and businesses minutia without the narrative going off the rails.

Even the most die-hard fans began to wish they had better taste in who to kill off sometimes. For example, I’d trade one Adriana for both Sopranos children. AJ gave Dr. Melfi a run for her money as the most useless character in the later seasons. The living room furniture had more character than the kids.

One thing The Sopranos also ushered in to the new TV was the year-long wait for new episodes. All the momentum of the story ground to a halt. By the time they were back on the air, sometimes a year and a half later, any narrative through line had dissipated like Tony’s cigar smoke. 

With so much damn time to write the things, why were so many storylines dropped or forgotten about? Too many episodes ended on cliffhangers that wouldn’t get resolved—or even addressed—until weeks later. And heaven help you if some storyline got caught in a twelve-month break between seasons. It was like each writer was in their own cabin in the woods writing a standalone short film that they stitched together into a season.

New faces would pop up only to be underused and underdeveloped. Old favorites would pop in from time to time only long enough to remind you that you really like that character, but then they’d disappear and we’d get three more scenes of Janice.

In our binge-watching world of today, The Sopranos seems filled with holes.

The finale is its own special brand of insult to a loyal audience, but the less said about it the better. 

In the end, I think the story just got away from them. They were unwilling to make the major changes they needed to after Tony’s mom died, and the solution to add more mob politics was the wrong one. 

While many still cling to the first feelings of excitement when Season 1 hit the airwaves, not many viewers in the current generation are digging back into The Sopranos and finding it to be as good as they’re told. 

Breaking Bad is better because they never lost sight of the story. The Wire is better because they followed through on season arcs and then set themselves a new task next season, keeping it fresh. See also: The Americans, Fargo, The Walking Dead, Justified, The Shield, Deadwood

Don’t believe me? Find someone who didn't watch the first run of The Sopranos. Set them up with any of the shows above and ask them to watch both. The Sopranos won’t come out on top. 

There’s no doubt it laid groundwork. It broke barriers for what you could and couldn’t do with a TV show. It reached for an epicness not seen before. And it nearly got there, but instead it managed to crumble under its own weight.

It’s okay to admit it. It’s okay to still like it. It’s not a bad show by any stretch. Just stop telling people it’s the best ever, because that’s not true. And I know saying that risks me getting a visit in the night from some guys out to break my kneecaps, but someone had to say it.

See also: Raymond Chandler Is Not Noir: Get Over It

 


The Contrarian tells it like it is. You might not like it, but you know he’s right.

Comments

  1. Davit

    Where I’m from we call people like you an antfucker. Next time also talk about that one scene where the glas was half empty and in the next shot it was full.

  2. Tony

    Lmao it looks like someone didn’t understand the underlying meaning of the show ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Also, calling yourself “The Contrarian” de-legitimises any sort of criticism you make considering it implies that you will go against the grain in terms of critique, therefore not being objective in your “Journalism”.

    1. Livia was obviously the catalyst for most of Tony’s animus, therefore the character needed closure in order to fully explain and delve into Tony’s character. Was is Chase’s fault she died suddenly?
    2. Obviously you don’t understand the relationship dynamics present between Tony and Melfi. She dwindles in the show because she dwindles in his life. Use your brain.
    3. Does rape not happen? Did it not push forward discussions of rape in the Western world/Hollywood due to the ignoring of it for millennia? Go read about The Last Tango in Paris, bozo. The point of her not continuing a victim narrative is because she refused to be one – you obviously are just grasping at straws with this one.
    4. I don’t know what you mean by the writers getting bored with characters because you don’t give any examples. Are you familiar with citations?
    5. Ah, I see the problem. You couldn’t keep up – despite everyone having individual personalities, quirks, distinct names and persona’s. Further de-legitimising your dumb ass claims.
    6. Woah… It’s like life loses momentum sometimes… And is the point of his entire downfall in 6B. After he is shot by Junior he has a new lease on life, however none of that matters in the long run because he is a sociopath.
    7. It sounds like you really just want this show to be Breaking Bad and tie everything up with a nice little bow. Seems like it’s a lot more grounded in reality than you are.
    8. Ah, another facet of the show you obviously don’t understand. They were setting up the ending for like 2 seasons, seems as if that wasn’t enough time for you to understand the nuances of it.

    I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s objectively the best of all time, but for you to insist that there is some objective truth to there being a “BEST SHOW OF ALL TIME”, you misunderstand art at its core. Through your garbage article (which unfortunately sounds like it was written by a 15 year old trying to impress people on /r/breakingbad), it became abundantly clear that you just don’t understand the core concepts and themes of the show.

    Hope you can rethink your journalistic practices and not put out insipid drivel such as this ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)

    • veronika

      I imagine what a defensive babbler would say and here it is

  3. Nnnn

    OMG such a bs TV series

    • Felipe Salazar

      I am a new viewer of the Sopranos, I watched Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galáctica, Game of Thrones, Fargo, True Detectice, Boardwalk Empire, The Americans before the Sopranos, and I do think they are all superior to the Sopranos. The show is not compelling enough, the characters are caricatures, unlikeable, stories are uninteresting. The author hit it right in the nose, I was expecting a great show, and after two seasons, I’m done with this show.

  4. Ivan M

    It was over praised. I liked a few episodes but I remember so many episodes in seasons 4, 5 & 6 where after the episode was over I was wondering what’s so great about it.

  5. Rodal

    First of all, Thank you. Please don’t tell me I need a PhD to understand a TV Show. West Wing, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, etc. Worked on all levels. I suspect people like the idea of the show, more than the thing itself. I must have watched The Godfather series at least a dozen times. Every now and then, I re-watch and enjoy those other shows I mentioned. I just can’t get that The Sopranos was that great. That bothers me a little.

  6. Nathan

    It was easily the best show and I know the little kids on here who can’t acknowledge a real masterpiece in front of their eyes but it was probably the best action g for a show it was funny it was sad it was shocking and it kept you wanting more and when you wait 2 years for a show to return you want great results but stick to the walking dead

  7. JinCC

    Just nonsense lol. I guess your bottom line goal is to A. Get clicks and B. Have as many comments as possible. So kudos on both. Not everyone is going to love this series or any series for that matter. But to call it overrated? Baffling. I’m not a fan of GOT but I get that it’s great.

  8. Woo

    I agree with you. I just rewatched the entire series but FF’d through every scene with AJ and Meadow. That saved a LOT of time.

  9. Llgha

    Tony Soprano was an idiot. Laughably stupid. He was a bully who intimidated his way through life. Watching the series a 2nd time I realized just how dumb (low IQ) his character was. It’s hard to respect someone with little formal education. He was a glorified criminal and psychopath. I suppose if violence and sociopathic behavior are traits you admire in a person, you’d enjoy the show. Not to mention misogyny and bigotry.

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