Heavy Lies The Crown: The Wildly Overrated, Hugely Problematic Tony Soprano

Much like with The Beatles, there exists a prevailing opinion that it is offensive, wrong and just plain stupid to criticise The Sopranos in any way, shape or form. With all due respect to a show that certainly deserves its due in terms of influence – though Oz is oddly overlooked in this regard – fuck that. Dare to criticise David Chase’s hugely acclaimed mafia drama to a crowd of onlookers and suffer derision. It’s become something of a certainty.

Strangely, the opposing argument is usually a vociferous, knee-jerk point blank disagreement minus any real spirited attempt at explaining why. You’re just wrong and that’s that. Sure, voicing such an opinion makes for a lonely hill to die on but I’m happy to prop myself up there, safe in the knowledge that I will indeed wither but happy in the belief that The Sopranos is a good show, but not a great one.

Tony Soprano, The Sopranos overrated, good not great, james gandolfini, problematic, the wire is better, the shield, mafia, TV, television - HeadStuff.org
Source – wired.com

Again, it’s a contentious way of thinking. Hell, even acclaimed bestselling authors give you zero leeway when the subject comes up:



People fought wars so that you could have the wrong opinion. They fought and died on battlefields so that you could be wrong. So you use that right! Don’t let them die in vain.

I mean, come on! Look, ‘overrated’ doesn’t mean ‘bad’. That’s an increasingly common misconception. Three out of five is, in fact, a recommendation. The Sopranos is maybe even better than such a rating, though not by much, and the sheer level of hysterical hyperbole that follows the show around is legitimately questionable. No mistake; there are several excellent moments to be found throughout its 86 episodes. Fifth entry “College” is notably engaging as it catches an increasingly beleaguered Tony Soprano attempting to juggle the duties of fatherhood and enforcing mafia tradition in darkly comic fashion.

The writing can’t resist utilising an on-the-nose quote courtesy of Nathaniel Hawthorne but then the show had a difficult relationship with subtlety in general. People rave about “Pine Barrens” and rightly so; it’s a superbly-written and performed hour, the oft-quoted highlight of which concerning Paulie’s phone signal issues and subsequent bemusement that his seemingly invincible target is apparently a highly-skilled “interior decorator”. It’s a fun, clever segment with a memorable throwaway gag, only diehard fans wanted resolution to something that really didn’t require it.

“Who gives a shit about this Russian?” asked a bemused, exasperated Chase. “We did that show! I don’t know where he is! Now we’ve got to go and figure that out?!?!”

People, usually the casual viewer type, need closure. They crave it. As such, the finale of The Sopranos proved head-scratching for so many, despite it deserving kudos for ambition and sheer ballsiness. The problem with the ambiguous conclusion wasn’t so much the nature of its information withholding, more its central player and focus of the large question mark. To put it bluntly; Tony Soprano just isn’t all that interesting.

There’s an argument to made for Hannibal Lecter as the most intriguing character in all of fiction – despite Anthony Hopkins’ best efforts to ultimately turn his most mainstream-penetrating onscreen form into a pantomime villain – and it’s primarily because he is fascinating to the very core. Though a creation born within the confines and clichés of genre fiction, he offers little in the way of answers and raises question upon question to the point that the balance of power between author and invention would ultimately shift.

Tony Soprano, on the other hand, is a pig-headed cipher, a grey void who slowly lumbers from Point A to Point A over the course of many a dull hour. The oft-debated fade to black that concludes his linear, aimless journey is the only way to bring the curtain down. It simply doesn’t matter what did or did not happen in that moment.

Tony Soprano, The Sopranos overrated, good not great, james gandolfini, problematic, the wire is better, the shield, mafia, TV, television - HeadStuff.org
source – tvtropes.org

The Wire shows us how characters like Jimmy McNulty, Omar Little and the nuanced Stringer Bell can only change so much before the limitations of their world snap closed like a trap. The Shield delivers exceptional pathos and humanity in the form of Vic Mackey (who receives the most perfect fate imaginable for the character) and Shane Vendrell, who, infused with a gradually astonishing performance from Walton Goggins, emerges, against all odds, as the ruined beating heart of a show that offered so much more than its smash-mouth style initially suggested.

Justified‘s Raylan Givens changes just enough over the course of six seasons that his arc is, well, justified. These are flawed men but they are magnetic forces, too. Tony Soprano is a charisma void. The idea of a mob boss in therapy is an absolutely golden one but did the show really make the most of it? In the end, all they did with it was give Tony a few panic attacks, the odd fucked-up dream and zero catharsis. As for the ultimately useless Dr Melfi? Oh, rape subplot. Tremendous.

Speaking of ineffectual – we’ll take the high road and gloss over the wretched, pointless-as-fuck Carmela/Furio ‘thing’ – the foils Chase and his writing staff came up with for Tony were rather piss-poor, most of them existing only to build their foe up like they were caught in a ‘feud’ with Hulk Hogan. Joey Pantoliano’s Ralph Cifaretto was the kind of thinly-sketched maniac that pops up in every single gangster story and thus had a neon-lit expiration date but his eventual fall to Tony felt rote in the extreme.

Sopranos

Ditto Christopher Moltisanti’s ho-hum downward spiral and convenient exit. Primary antagonist Phil Leotardo even goes out as a literal joke. As for the ongoing efforts of the FBI? Aside from facilitating poor Adriana La Cerva’s death, they may as well not have been there. And why? Why feed this lumbering oaf of a character? What makes Tony so worthy?

Like those who sport Heisenberg t-shirts, know all the lines of Scarface and cheer when Jordan Belfort folds his wife up with a hard punch at the end of The Wolf of Wall Street, people will forever miss the point. Why anyone would actively root for a one-dimensional scumbag like Tony Soprano is beyond me. Don’t misunderstand; some of the most well-told stories centre around reprehensible individuals; Glengarry Glen Ross, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Shield to name but three. What’s the difference? Layers. Depth. The slightest hint of empathy.

The Sopranos knew what empathy was and honestly respected it at key times. Bobby Bacala’s grim corruption and subsequent violent dispatching is genuinely heartbreaking. Adriana’s fate is devastating, even if there exists a lingering undercurrent of ‘bitch deserved it’. These characters mattered, as did many other supporting players. Ken Leung showed more fire in a handful of scenes – to the point that the strength of his performance won him a (thankless) role on Lost – than James Gandolfini managed over the show’s entire run.

A dull lead surrounded by more attractive supports – sound familiar? It should, given long-term writer Terence Winter would go on to create Boardwalk Empire, gifting the legacy of Tony Soprano to Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson; a put-upon puppet master of organised crime. Nucky, like Tony, is interesting, he’s just not that interesting. That those around them had to lick boot and/or perish so that their status could rise quickly became monotonous. Heavy lies the crown for the kind of protagonist these tales centre upon. To quote one of The Wire‘s most tragic pawns; the king stay the king. He’s got to earn that right on a consistently compelling basis, however. As such, The Sopranos is a good television show, only a fool would label it a poor one. It just isn’t a great one.

Featured image source – brucegerenscer.net

20 Comments
  1. Awestruck says

    Thank you, Thank you! Great point (s).

    1. Nick Pagano says

      Nah. Terrible.

  2. Pobs1983 says

    Probably one of the dumbest opinions ever.

    1. wndrr says

      the sopranos is the most overrated show i’ve ever seen.

      1. Nick Pagano says

        Congratulations on only watching 1 show your whole life.

        1. wndrr says

          congratulations on having 1 neuron

          1. Nick Pagano says

            Apparently that’s 1 more than you. It’s all it takes to realize the Sopranos is one of the most brilliant shows ever created, and voted the greatest written show of all time by the people who write shows for a living. Here’s rooting on your very 1st neuron. Hopefully the fairy treats you nice.

          2. wndrr says

            thanks for confirming you’re a sheep, although that was obvious already

          3. Nick Pagano says

            You think breaking bad was a great show. Talk about sheep.

          4. wndrr says

            you know a wise man once said ” don’t ever trust someone who doesn’t like Breaking Bad “

          5. Nick Pagano says

            It was ok, boring and obvious at times, with a tenth of the psychological depth and realism of the sopranos. But then I know how much you enjoy those American action films, so your taste for BB makes sense.

    2. Nick Pagano says

      Easily.

  3. Layne Hansen says

    Absolutely agree even though this deserves a deeper analysis. Sopranos is easily the most overrated show ever. Again, it’s not to say it’s BAD, but it’s far from the best show ever. Breaking Bad, The Wire, and the Shield are undoubtedly better for many reasons. At best I’d put it 4th, although True Detective season 1 is so great that even the following season probably doesn’t drag it below the Sopranos. This show is very premise heavy without any real depth of character, and especially story. NOTHING HAPPENS! I would dare say that 90% of the show is people sitting around and talking. That’s it. We get to know their characters a little bit, but they’re not likable people so why should I care about character development. Worse is that there is rarely any tension. The Shield and Breaking Bad were often tense because you could see two opposing forces about to collide. Sopranos NEVER did this. They always needed to make Tony out to be the biggest, smartest, toughest, whatever.

    Sopranos biggest problem is its bloated sense of self. Chase (who is ridiculously overrated) threw in all kinds of symbols and allusions that ultimately don’t mean anything to the overall story. More important to this point is the love affair with the mob. These are fat, stupid, lazy, violent A-holes; yet we’re to believe they take on all outside threats without any problems. No law enforcement or rival outfits could take out these morons? Please. Chase makes them all out to be super soldiers. A squad of special forces operators could take out all the crews with no problem.

    The second biggest problem is the characters. Tony is a dick–either by yelling at people or ridiculing them. What’re the big differences between Paulie and Silvio? They’re basically the same character, and cartoonish. Christopher has some depth, as does Carmela. Overall there are just too many damn characters and it’s hard to care about any of them. Melfi is a crap character. This was a real opportunity to push the drama and the tension, but mostly it’s just her and Tony sitting around and talking…BORING!

    Plot lines and characters come and go without any introduction, context, or explanation. Potential antagonists appear and then disappear without adding anything to the tension, the plot, or anything else.

    Lastly is the acting. Gandolfini was great. Imperioli is probably the best actor on the show. Edie Falco was also really good, even though her character was often flat and didn’t add much to the story. The guy that plays Bobby Baccala is good–he’s shown his chops on Blue Bloods. The guy that plays Junior is pretty good. Too many of the main actors are just plain bad, let’s be honest. Paulie and Silvio are basically the same character in two manifestations. Van Zant is terribly overrated; I think much of the appeal is the fact that he’s in a band. His impression of Godfather 3 is laughably bad.

    The worst are the kids, though. The chick that plays Meadow comes into her own a bit towards the end, but the kid that plays AJ is hands down the worst actor in a major show. Tell me an actor in a main role, in a show that’s considered great, that is worse than him. There’s a scene in the last season where he’s at a club snorting coke in the bathroom. He then supposedly ODs or something, but we can’t tell because it’s acted so horribly. Chase should’ve had the character die of cancer or something early on. 1) it would’ve created some drama for Tony and Carmela and added some depth to their characters 2) it would’ve removed the embarrassment of needing to keep him in the cast. I bet Chase cringes every time he watches when AJ is on screen because he just sucks.

    Saying the Sopranos is the best show of all time because it was so influential is like saying the first Toy Story is the best animated movie of all time. It’s clearly not, but because of nostalgia, people give it points. Sopranos brought some edge to TV, but it had the luxury of being on HBO. The Shield and Breaking Bad were both edgier and they were on regular cable. They were edgier because they brought tension. Let’s not give this show more credit than it deserves just because it was “first”. It’s a good show with some good, sometimes great moments. However, y’all defenders at any cost need to get a grip and watch it again.

  4. JohnGrant says

    Stupid article.
    Two minutes that I’ll never get back.

  5. Nick Pagano says

    You seem Super angry. All the loser rejects you mentioned, hannibal lecter for instance, aren’t interesting in the slightest. Who cares about pathetic white american rage. It’s literally the most boring possible topic of entertainment. Get a fucking life.

    1. wndrr says

      you sound like an incel honestly

      1. Nick Pagano says

        You’re projecting. White American rage, the type you embody and value in your entertainment, is the very definition of incel behavior.

        1. wndrr says

          i have a girlfriend, you pathetic loser

          1. Nick Pagano says

            Lol there is a 0% chance she’s anything above a 2.

  6. Nick Pagano says

    Also, you very clearly do not have children so have zero clue what family life is like. You have no basis on which to form your opinions.

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