The Sopranos is easily one of the top five important TV shows of all-time. It forever changed the way we watch television, and provided us with some of the most indelible characters in TV history. It’s a rich, beautifully written series that manages to be profound, incredibly funny and deeply unpleasant all at the same time, tackling issues of masculinity, morality and redemption, while simultaneously remaining a constantly entertaining gangster drama. It became synonymous with HBO, putting the studio on the map for prestige TV dramas, and without it there would undoubtedly be no Breaking Bad, no Mad Men, no Boardwalk Empire.
In lieu of the much anticipated prequel to The Sopranos, The Many Saints Of Newark (which has been held up until September due to Covid restrictions) HBO are releasing a limited run of Celebrating The Sopranos (https://sirkvod.vhx.tv). Ostensibly three conversations about the show, all filmed as unobtrusively as possible, with each one offering a distinct insight into the show, from critics, cast members and the creator himself.
My Dinner With Alan: A Sopranos Session
It’s obvious now that The Sopranos changed the TV landscape forever, but what genuinely hadn’t occurred to me before is the way it also altered the way critics talk about TV shows. Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz were two of the biggest proponents of The Sopranos, and the way they wrote about it was one of the main factors in me getting into film/TV criticism. So this discussion between the two is just great – both are engaging and their enthusiasm is infectious as they delve deep into the minutiae of the show, and it feels like we’re just dropping in on their conversation.
Both critics bring their personal takes on the more ambiguous moments to the discussion, not least of which is that divisive ending. (appropriately enough the discussion takes place in Holsten’s in New Jersey, aka the setting for that final fateful meal) They do promote their book – the best-selling and award-winning ‘The Sopranos Sessions’ – an awful lot, however to be fair, it does sound like an interesting read, and this interview makes an excellent companion piece to the book.
The Last Supper: A Sopranos Session
While Seitz and Sepinwall are incredibly knowledgeable about The Sopranos, the reverence they show it does sometimes make it feel a little formal. The second feature is much more candid. Essentially just a conversation between four of the most memorable characters from the show (well three really) as they reminisce over dinner in the Little Italy restaurant Il Cortile – where Sopranos actors would go for a final meal when their character had been killed off. Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) Arthur J. Nascarella (Carlo Gervasi) and Federico Castellucio (Furio Guinta) each bring something different to the table, and it’s a truly entertaining watch even if it threatens to go off the rails at any moment. Curatola comes across as thoughtful and judicious as his character (Johnny Sack was always my favourite character in the show, a calm, calculating counterpart for Tony, and the story of how he got the role is fascinating) Pastore is unapologetically blunt about his personal grievances with HBO, bringing up contract disputes between the cast and HBO, while Castellucio tends to mediate, and Nascarella occupies a position almost like that of a fan; honestly he just seems happy to be there!
What stands out in this segment though, is the love that each actor has for the show, and the tremendous warmth they all feel towards James Gandolfini. The absence of the lead actor is felt keenly through all three interviews but especially so here, and each of the actors share stories about him, and their relationship with the actor who by all accounts was incredibly generous, self-effacing and protective of his fellow cast members. He is clearly remembered with a huge deal of affection by everyone involved in the series, and this is as much a tribute to him as the show itself.
David Chase: A Sopranos Session
This is effectively a promotion for The Many Saints Of Newark, but it’s still a real treat – an incredibly insightful interview with perhaps the most taciturn TV showrunner of all time. Chase is so rarely forthcoming about his creation that it’s refreshing to see him be so open with Seitz and Sepinwall as they discuss his childhood in Newark which served as inspiration both for the series and the prequel, some of his creative choices on The Sopranos and his feature debut, Not Fade Away and moments from the series that still affect him.
At three hours, this collection is a comprehensive look back at one of the greatest achievements in television history, and yet it never feels like a slog. It’s an insightful, refreshing retrospective that makes the prospect of re-watching the whole series again from the beginning very, very appealing.