The Sopranos may seem like an odd choice for The Varsity’s “Overlooked” column, boasting over 20 Emmy awards. However, it is ripe and waiting for a generational rediscovery. Despite being instantly absorbed into the zeitgeist of the early 2000s, the television masterpiece has been criminally ignored by those who exist on the millennial and Gen Z border. Part of the reason for this is likely its lack of presence on streaming services like Netflix.
The Sopranos follows the chronicles of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, masterfully portrayed by the late James Gandolfini. Tony is brash and unapologetic, but as he juggles his daily life of crime with his familial duties, he begins experiencing severe panic attacks. With Edie Falco as Tony’s wife, Carmela, who shows a fascinating contradiction of subservient mob wife and strong-willed personality, these characters serve as an example of the show’s impeccable and unique characterization.
The effect of this character-based plot is that each episode contains a complete story arc, allowing for painfully grounded human characters to weave between bits of mafia spectacle. In the current TV landscape, where characterization and story have largely been thrust to the wayside to make way for splashy plot devices, The Sopranos seems transcendent.
Nuanced characters, however, should not be mistaken for morally upright ones. The inherently crude world in which the Soprano family and its associates exist creates violent plotlines and dredges up disgusting and deplorable supporting characters. Characters’ biases and reprehensible actions are shown yet condemned, and this tension manages to get at themes of loyalty, trust, love, and justice, much deeper than television does today. This cathartic ride, combined with the detailed depiction of the scandalous world of organized crime, creates a quality of television that has remained unmatched to this day.
The Sopranos, at its core, is a show about a family like any other, who just happen to live in a horrific and fascinating world. Though the lack of bingeable-ness may turn some off, experiencing the show in all of its glory for the first time is a revelation. As you learn each character’s neurosis and desires, it starts feeling like you’re visiting old friends — scotch-swirling, rat-whacking, criminal friends, but friends nonetheless.