David Chase’s masterpiece The Sopranos captured the imagination of viewers unlike any series prior, drawing its audience into the seedy, criminal underworld of suburban New Jersey.
But while the #1 rated show on Rolling Stone’s Greatest list saw no shortage of conflict, betrayal, and violence expected from media of this genre, its historic run was not driven by a rising crescendo of shock and awe like one may expect.
Instead, its eight seasons on air was more akin to a leisurely cruise along the Italian countryside. And at the end of the road, it’s the journey that is still fondly remembered by fans more than a decade after the series finale — however controversial it was.
Perhaps Tony Soprano said it best in the first season’s final scene, while surrounded by those dearest to him:
You’ll remember the little moments, like this, that were good.– Tony Soprano, S01E13
At its heart, The Sopranos isn’t a mob movie; it’s a show about relationships and human interaction. For all the exciting hits and tense sit-downs, we also see Tony struggle with fatherhood as he attempts to provide for both his family, and his
family glorified crew.
While the draw may be Tony Soprano’s mafioso lifestyle, it’s not just a hardened criminal we’re following when the iconic title sequence fades.
Instead, it’s the story of a working father of two, doing his best to keep things together as he navigates a dysfunctional home and work life.
This dynamic is clearly seen in Tony’s relationship with his uncle. Obstructing Tony’s ascension to the point of ordering a hit on him, Junior was the antagonist of the early seasons.
However, Tony still maintained a relationship with his Uncle Junior through most of the series, approaching him for advice as well as ensuring that he was cared for.
Despite their rocky relationship during the show, Junior’s large role in Tony’s childhood, especially after the passing of his father, didn’t just disappear.
Like the dilemma faced by Frankenstein’s monster, how could Tony turn on someone responsible for his existence?
It’s these moments of vulnerability that allows us to relate to, and dare I say, root for Tony.
The human side of relationships is explored again with Agent Dwight Harris. As an FBI agent tasked with monitoring mob activity in New Jersey, Harris despised Tony’s antics and after numerous raids, stakeouts, and unannounced visits to his home, it’s safe to assume the feeling was mutual.
Although firmly on the side of the law, Harris’ character is more than just a foil. While originally positioned as the “good guy” in a show about some very bad people, we start to see the mutual respect both he and Tony hold for each other, as well as instances where they are more similar than different.
Eventually, Harris is transferred to another department and enters an informal arrangement with Tony to exchange information about New York mob activity for tips on potential terrorism cells in New Jersey.
It is during one of these meetings that we see one of the most human interactions in the show as Tony listens to his ex-nemesis struggle with marital issues remarkably similar to his own:
While they stand on very opposite sides of the law, the two men share the same fundamental challenge: to provide – both for their families and their livelihoods.
Orange Peel Beef
A more lighthearted example comes from the Season 4’s Whitecaps.
In this episode, Tony deals with trouble within the New York “family” while simultaneously stressing about the purchase (and subsequent reneging) of a waterfront property for his real family.
But between these major storylines is one of the most memorable (and often meme’d) moments of the series: motherfucking goddamn orange peel beef!
Though not at all necessary to the progression of the plot, this decidedly human display of frustration shows us that, despite the larger-than-life issues happening in the background, all Tony wants in that moment is to enjoy a pleasant dinner with his wife and son.
Because sometimes, it’s the little things that matter.
For all its glamorization of the gangster lifestyle on the outside, the show is built on the little moments between its characters.
And while there are other films which showcase the American Mafia well, few explore the intricacies of human relationships better than The Sopranos.