Life and Death in L.A.: June 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013

'Sopranos' was Groundbreaking Television

It's hard to overstate how important "The Sopranos" was to television and to crime fiction. Before "The Sopranos," was there any show that could make such a morally corrupted character as Tony Soprano, if not likeable, understandable and approachable to a broad audience?

For all of his violence and treachery, we always wanted Tony, the New Jersey mob boss, to somehow get by without getting whacked by rivals or arrested. Maybe it was because James Gandolfini was so entertaining to watch that even though we knew Tony was bad, we couldn't bear to lose our ringside seat at one hell of a sideshow.

The show was also of huge importance to HBO, the cable network that brought the program to millions. It was a huge hit whose popularity would be hard to replicate now. It must have taken guts to present a program that portrayed crime in raw, unfiltered terms, and yet allowed the star to be, at times, quite vulnerable. Also, a lot of Italian-American viewers were less than thrilled with the prospects of another program about Italian mobsters.

When news of his death came yesterday, it brought shock and regret. He was only 51, and a fine actor who won a place in our hearts. And we would never see if he could somehow top his performance as Tony in another series -- maybe one that had nothing to do with crime.
Tony tears into Dr. Melfi.

That question will go unanswered, and James Gandolfini will forever be most remembered as Tony Soprano, the troubled mob boss who sought solace in weekly meetings with his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).

The Writer's Guild of America recently voted "The Sopranos" as the best written TV show of all times, and with good reason. But it would never have been as good without Gandolfini. He and the writers continually amazed us over the show's 10 year run by creating TV that went far beyond what others achieved. We won't see that again for a long time.