A huge theme of the show. Nearly all of the characters are unprecedentedly rich with psychological nuance, complex (and often conflicting) emotions, and words and actions which can be interpreted in a number of ways. The show treasures ambiguity, and thus refuses any easy categorizations for its characters or anything else.
Meta example. Did David Chase end the show that way to gain a typical audience reaction? Or was it an intentional "screw-you" to the fans?Explanation As an entry in Misaimed Fandom, it was discussed quote-on-quote "David Chase, creator of The Sopranos has spoken out against the many viewers who would cheer Tony on, stating that he was written to be an unlikable, hypocritical character. And, you know, a murderous gangster. And then, when those same viewers began calling for Tony's death during the show's final season, he got really frustrated, giving an absolutely scathing statement that basically said that rooting for a despicable criminal for six years and then arbitrarily deciding that it's now time for "justice" is completely absurd."
In "Kaisha", when Tony and Phil are on the cusp of burying the hatchet, their mediator, Carmine Jr., feels compelled to bring up Phil's murdered brother at the most inopportune time, which puts a quick end to negotiations and cements Phil's antagonism. Fans are divided on whether this was a genuine bout of faux pas or stupidity on Carmine's part, or if he deliberately torpedoed the meeting with this "accidental" remark for his own reasons.
In light of The Many Saints of Newark, did Junior advise Tony to get rid of Christopher because he genuinely believed he would eventually become a liability for the family? Or was he worried that somehow Christopher would eventually discover Junior was the one who arranged for Christopher's father's death and decide to take revenge?
Vito's Gayngst and brief exodus to New Hampshire in Season 6A is the storyline most frequently accused of this. For reference; the story spans 6 episodes, literally half the season, and many fans believe it could've been resolved in at least half that time. Some also consider the amount of focus the story got jarring since Vito had been an ancillary character beforehand.
Tony's coma and Carmela & Furio's will they or won't they dance are other commonly-cited candidates.
More generally, the show developed something of a pattern to its storytelling, wherein a previously unmentioned character shows up, causes problems for Tony, and is dealt with near the end of the season. After playing out with Richie and then Ralphie, fans started to feel that the show had repeated itself one too many times by the end of Tony Blundetto's arc in Season 5, which hit predictable beats up to its conclusion note this case actually could have been worse, as David Chase initially planned to drag Tony B's story out for two seasons. .
The show spends most of Seasons 5 & 6 building up to a war between the New Jersey and NYC mobs, a build up which includes not one but two false starts - one towards the end of Season 5, and then again at the end of 6A.
Award Snub: The show got enormous amounts of critical acclaim but consistently lost the Best Drama Series award at the Emmy Awards, first to The Practice and then (three times) to The West Wing (though it would eventually win for its fifth season). This led to some discussion about whether there might be some bias among Emmy voters against cable series, but at this point there's no real way to know. (Cable may have lost the battle but won the war on that front, though; a network show hasn't won Best Drama Series since 2006.)
Season four, which either sucked out loud or was a good season that got crapped on because the show took an introspective turn.
Too much yakking and not enough whacking, or plenty of character development and drama?
The finale split people into camps of "lifers" and "deadheads" for months after with people on one side occasionally claiming that if you didn't agree with their take you weren't a real fan and simply didn't get the show.
Go to IMDB's message board for the series and you'll see that half the threads are either "Lifers vs Deadheads" threads or turn into focusing on that question at some point or another.
Critical Research Failure: New Jersey fans took issue with a scene from "Pine Barrens" in which Tony pumps his gas himself, as the state is one of the twonote Oregon is the other, although in 2018 that state now allows self-service filling in counties with 40,000 residents or fewer where the law requires you stay in your car while an attendant does it.
Christopher's intervention has to be seen to be believed. The line-crossing happens when Adriana starts crying because Christopher, in a heroin haze, sat on her fluffy little dog and killed it. It only gets more unbelievable from there until the gangsters give up on the touchy-feely stuff and start beating the hell out of Christopher.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The series was even MORE realistic and de-glamorized than Goodfellas. It lampshaded that mobsters love The Godfather and Goodfellas. Guess who loved it? And many viewers who weren't gangsters also missed the point and saw Tony and crew as heroes and anyone who ratted on them as deserving of death.
Many people think of Johnny Sack as a decent guy due to his love for his wife, forgetting some of his more heinous actions such as putting out a hit on someone because they dared to make a joke about her weight (granted, the person who made the joke is one of the most despicable characters on the show for unrelated reasons) or urinating on a made guy after putting him in hospital because he thought said guy was laughing at him, as well as his Manipulative Bastard and False Friend tendencies towards Tony.
Christopher gets this from a lot of fans due to his Freudian Excuse and treatment by Tony and the other mobsters throughout the series. This ignores that he's a psychotic Ax-CrazyJerkass who frequently brutalizes and kills innocent people, physically and emotionally abuses his girlfriend Adrianna, and that he had several opportunities to leave the Mob life but rejected them all, even selling Adrianna out to her death rather than going into witness protection.
Silvio Dante might get this the most from fans. It makes a certain amount of sense since he is one of the more reasonable, friendly and trustworthy mobsters and isn't as pointlessly sadistic as many on the show - but he's still a violent pimp who abuses his employees and a remorseless killer.
Ending Aversion: A particularly controversial example. The ending may depict Tony's death but it's left very ambiguous and up to the viewer's interpretation.
Furio Giunta, particularly for being the most badass character on the show.
Drea de Matteo as Adriana. She went from a being an extra in the pilot and a minor character in the first season to one of the most popular characters and a big hit with critics especially in season 5 when her storyline came to a head and fans were devastated by the death of the character. Drea de Matteo won the Emmy for her performance in that episode.
Patsy Parisi, when confronted by an angry Chris armed with a gun what does he do? Pick up a nearby lead pipe and spit on him. This is the man who pissed in Tony Sopranos pool and got away with it.
Despite dying in Season 1, Mikey Palmice remains a very popular character. When fans discuss which characters they wish had lasted longer, Mikey tends to be one of the most frequently mentioned names.
Epileptic Trees: There's heavy debates about the show's infamous ending, with discussions going on how either its symbolic themes, this argument over Tony being whacked himself, or most sarcastic, if David Chase just left the ending like that to piss off people who rooted for Tony despite Tony being a murderer and an asshole.
Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: In "Join the Club" and "Mayham", Tony Soprano, while in a coma, dreams of himself as a salesman who loses his wallet and takes the identity of Kevin Finnerty. Numerous fan theories have suggested the dream was Purgatory, which Tony was visiting. Note that while David Chase has Jossed all theories of the significance of the "Kevin Finnerty" name, he has neither confirmed nor denied the Purgatory theory regarding the dream itself.
Really, the entire show can be this with all of the symbolism scattered throughout, even outside of the dream sequences, as well as the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane nature of the afterlife.
Fandom Rivalry: Fans of this show have a big one with fans of The Wire and Breaking Bad, due to all three shows being widely considered to be the top candidates for the greatest crime drama (or even drama in general) show of all time.
Carmela: You wanna train him to be a professional killer?
Tony: Oh, will you stop?! They're soldiers. And the United States Army hardly ever goes to war anymore.
Also in Season 6, AJ actually considers joining the Army, but his parents talk him out of it.
Any fat joke towards Ginny Sack or Tony, because their respective actors, Denise Borino-Quinn and James Gandolfini, both died from health complications in middle age.
Gigi's death in "He is Risen" was initially laughably awkward, a stone cold killer randomly dying of a heart attack on the toilet surrounded by porno mags leaving all of his friends stuck doing their best to preserve his dignity after the fact. It became a lot less funny when Gandolfini died in the exact same manner. Tony's line comparing him to Elvis Presley is especially heart wrenching, as Gandolfini is discussing on his own fate and making a comparison that was widely made upon his death.
Not so much "genius" as "location", for obvious reasons, Jersey people get a big kick out of this show. New Jersey-based sportswriter Peter King bragged in his column that he interviewed Michael Strahan in the same booth where the show ended. It especially became a point of local pride to be able to name every location in the opening credits.
In Season 1, Dr. Melfi's family therapist brags that his family includes the wheelman to Louis Lepke of Murder Inc. and says, "Those were some tough Jews!" Tough Jews is the name of a nonfiction book about Jewish mobsters written by Rich Cohen and published the year before the season aired.
Carmella reading Flaubert's Madame Bovary in Season 5 will seem a lot more meaningful if you know that it's a novel about an unsatisfied housewife who has an extramarital affair. Fittingly, the book is recommended to her by Robert Wegler, who she ultimately ends up sleeping with.
The Madame Bovary parallel goes a step further if you also note that the other major literary work that Carmella and Wegner discuss is The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, with Carmella clearly empathizing with Heloise's isolation and her doomed love affair. Madame Bovary also includes a major character named Heloise Dubuc, who was Charles Bovary's wife in his unhappy first marriage; their marriage never worked out, in large part, because Bovary was in love with the titular character long before he actually married her. Carmella likely relates to Dubuc as well, since she reads the book as she's just getting used to the idea that Tony never really loved her.
Genre Turning Point: For the entire medium of television. Not only did The Sopranos make HBO universally known (along with Oz, which had premiered in 1997), it also established that high quality television drama can compete with film and literature in terms of telling artfully constructed, sophisticated stories for adults. The Sopranos is also credited with demonstrating that shows with complicated, continuity-heavy plots that didn't spoonfeed information to the audience could be successful — a revelation without which shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones would undoubtedly never have been greenlit. This eventually started spreading to basic cable as well, starting with The Shield and Mad Men (created by a Sopranos veteran), and most notably executed with Breaking Bad. It also made the deaths of major characters a regular device in its storytelling, to the point thatnobodywas completely safe. This is now a staple of acclaimed television dramas. While other series had done many of these things before (such as Babylon 5), The Sopranos brought them all together and was not restricted by the Sci Fi Ghetto, allowing it to become the turning point for television. All of this has brought about what many consider to be a golden age of dramatic television.
Growing the Beard: The series is often credited as Growing the Beard for the medium of television itself. The show grew its own beard in the first season episode "College", which ended with Tony ruthlessly killing a snitch in witness protection an act that no TV protagonist had ever done before at that time.
James Gandolfini's death at age 51 due to a heart attack caused many scenes to play much darker:
During Christopher's drug intervention in "The Strong Silent Type", he counters Tony's criticism of his addiction by decrying Tony's weight and says that he's gonna die of a heart attack by the time he's 50.
In "Members Only", the recently slimmed-down Vito says that Tony might not be around forever given his unhealthy lifestyle.
Any scene between Tony and Meadow, because Gandolfini never got to spend that kind of time with his own daughter, who was born just a few months before his death.
Tony occasionally uses cocaine in the show. Gandolfini himself struggled with cocaine addiction.
Phil Leotardo suffers an incapacitating heart attack. His actor Frank Vincent died on September 13, 2017 due to complications of heart surgery after a heart attack.
Satin Dolls, the strip club used on the show, became a real meeting spot for mobsters which ultimately caused it to be closed by federal order in 2017.
As of 2020, Satin Dolls is opened and operational. Including a shrine to James Gandolfini.
One of the subplots of the final season was Tony losing a grip on his gambling addiction, culminating in a scene where he loses thousands of dollars on a NY Jets game. New York has the game in hand, until Buffalo Quarterback J.P. Losman fumbles the ball, picks it back up again, and runs it in for a touchdown to win the game. Flash forward to when that game was actually played in New Jersey: Buffalo has the game in hand, until J.P. Losman fumbles the ball to the Jets, who then run it in for a touchdown to win the game.
Once upon a time, MADtv had a parody of the show that depicted just how disjointed the show would be if The Sopranos was shown on a non-premium cable channel (and on the Christian-Family themed PAX network at that) and edited for all manner of violence, sex, and foul, abusive language, reducing the run time to a mere three minutes. Thankfully, the actual syndicated version on A&E wasn't as bad as the parody MADtv came up with, due to the fact that Chase wisely saw the potential syndication value of the show and went about filming alternate clothed versions of all scenes involving nudity and non-explicit versions of the death scenes that he knew would not fly in syndication.
In the Season 6 episode "Mayham", Silvio angrily yells "Am I speakin' Norwegian here?" when trying to settle an argument between Bobby and Vito. Then, in 2012...
In Season 3, Carmela speaks up in Hilary Clinton's defense when the other wives insult her. Edie Falco would later play her in Impeachment.
I Am Not Shazam: The central crime family in the show is officially called "the DiMeo family", not "the Soprano family." Sopranos have only been the heads of the New Jersey branch of the larger crime family. The title refers to Tony Soprano's biological family, not his business one.
It Was His Sled: It's hard to find someone who didn't know about the show without hearing about how the finale ended.
Ralph Cifaretto also counts. Despite what a massive Jerkass he is, he's also infectiously hilarious and entertaining, and Joe Pantoliano's magnetic performance especially sells it.
Livia Soprano is one of the most despicable mothers in all of fiction, being even more deplorable than the actual gangsters in her family. All this combined with Nancy Marchand's excellent performance makes her incredibly fun to hate.
Phil Leotardo, complete Jerkass from the moment he appears onscreen and eventual final Big Bad of the series. But Frank Vincent's excellent performance, Fountainof Memes lines shown below and how he serves as a Foil and Shadow Archetype to Tony. Serve to make the Shah Of Iran so enjoyable and so loathsome at the same time for viewers.
Phil Leotardo turned himself into a house Explanation based on the scene in "The Second Coming" when Phil refuses to meet with Tony and Little Carmine then yells at them from his attic as they're leaving. The framing of the scene makes it seem like the house itself is speaking in Phil's voice.
Expect the word "Gabagool" to come up whenever someone mentions the series online.
"It's anti-Italian discrimination"Explanation Silvio Dante's response to Columbus Day being protested in "Christopher". A screenshot of the quote has become a popular tongue-in-cheek response to perceived slights against Italians or Italian culture.
"He never had the makings of a varsity athlete"Explanation During the Soprano dinner at Junior's apartment in "Where's Johnny?", Junior keeps informing everyone that Tony could never be a professional football player, eventually enraging Tony to the point that he and AJ promptly leave. This phrase is frequently used as a playful tease for people who claimed to have been great atheletes in college, but never "made it to the big leagues".
Tony is the main protagonist of the series, so it is only natural that the audience tends to root for him. Let's just say it speaks to David Chase's writing abilities that he gets us to sympathize with a psychopathic murderer.
Christopher became somewhat of an Ensemble Dark Horse as the series progressed, and tended to garner a lot of sympathy along the way. In fact, many fans were legitimately devastated when Tony killed him near the end of the series. This is despite Chris being a deadbeat junkie, a total Jerkass, physically and emotionally abusive to Adrianna.
Paulie. Everything about him is so over-the-top, comically absurd, Laughably Evil and cartoonish, it breaks the suspension of disbelief and sometimes it's hard to even take him seriously.
Tony's final scene with his mother in "Proshai Livushka", an extremely awkward mix of new footage of James Gandolfini and outtakes of the late Nancy Marchand which never comes close to being convincing, not least because her hairstyle quite obviously changes from one shot to the next.
Paulie's character, while over the top, comical and downright cartoonish as described above in Narm, he is still well-loved for the levity, the colorfulness of his character overall, and the depths of his relationship with his ma that his actor, Tony Sirico nails especially in Season Six Part A. Along with that, he can also be downright vicious as a gangster when he wants to be. As Minn and Jason Barone will tell you. Helps to make Paulie one of the standout characters of the show.
Silvio as well, despite the cartoonish way he looks and acts at times, along with Steven Van Zandt's limited acting range. He still manages to be one of the shows quirkiest and yet most human characters, he shows as well that can be menacing as Paulie or Chris when he wants to be. Which Tracee, Adriana, and Burt Gervasi found out the hard way.
Phil coming out of the closet to whack Vito is a heavy-handed metaphor if you think about it (how much time did he wait inside, how did he explain it to his minions?), but then again, it's a memorable move.
Never Live It Down: The series is often looked upon as a redefining show that forever changed the landscape of TV and Cable TV forever and established the ways a show should be with themes of Anyone Can Die and complex characters in a dark-like setting. But ask anybody about the show and chances are they'll just mention the infamous ending.
Character-wise, Christopher suffocating poor Cosette while high on heroin was this to some people. While his fault, it was an accident, and certainly not the worst of his sins. Michael Imperioli himself has mused on this phenomenon.
Romantic Plot Tumor: Season four dedicates a lot of time teasing a potential affair between Carmela and Furio, but it never pays off. He just leaves and, aside from a throw-away line from Tony, is never mentioned again.
Seasonal Rot: The general consensus is that seasons 1, 2 and 5 are the strongest while the opinion on the other three is more mixed.
Season 3 is seen by some as suffering because of the writers having to greatly restructure the season after the death of actress Nancy Marchand, though there are still several episodes in the season that are loved by the fandom and some don't even think there was a drop in quality. Livia's final scene, with unconvincing edited-in footage of Marchand, is cited as a bit of a low point for the series.
Season 4 is the most debated season. Some fans didn't like the season's lessened focus on Mafia concerns (the season has the least people "whacked" of any season) and the turns Carmela's storyline took but others found the way the season explored Tony and Carmella very compelling.
Season 6 suffers due to the two year break after the fifth season as well as annoyance from fans over the season being split in two. While the earlier episodes are lauded people generally disliked the way that Vito's storyline dragged in the middle of the season. Season 6 part 2 (the last 9 episodes of the series) is more well liked though there's a decent amount of broken base concerning Christopher's death and the Grand Finalehaving No Ending.
The Scrappy: Some fans really hate AJ Soprano. In his defense, however, he is given moments of genuine Nice Guy behavior. Whether or not they balance out moments where he and his friends pour acid on a guy or beat up a Somalian bike rider (as the result of an accident that was completely AJ's fault), YMMV. It's his Nice Guy moments that actually fuel his scrappy status to some. Mainly calling him out as a "Pussy", an hypocrital jerk, and generally a weak and spineless character shaming Tony just by existing.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: It's pretty hard to appreciate just how groundbreaking the show was at the time. A drama with such a nuanced storyline and dark subject matter, focusing on an Anti-Hero, was very novel for the time, but fairly standard for today's prestige television. Most notably, David Chase had to fight tooth and nail for Tony to be allowed to kill the informer in the fifth episode, as HBO execs were sure no one would watch the show again if he did it.
The infamous ending scene is common knowledge to many people who have never even seen the show, having been widely referenced and parodied in media ever since.
To a bit lesser extent, Tony strolling down the driveway to get the paper at the start of each season. Especially since it became more of a waddle due to the sizable amount of weight that James Gandolfini gained over the show's run.
Tony's last conversation with Livia in "Proshai Livushka". Nancy Marchand's death necessitated that the character be written out, so the crew employed CGI to superimpose Marchand's image on another actress' body. It was not convincing.
Strangled by the Red String: Meadow's boyfriends are the source of some drama and given decent focus for the most part... except for the last one, fellow mob kid Patrick Parisi, to whom she becomes engaged. Her dates with him are mentioned but only once shown, and he doesn't even appear until the third-to-last episode of the series.
Strawman Has a Point: Although he had Artie's original Vesulvio restaurant burned down, Tony had good reason. Uncle Junior had been planning to stage a hit at Vesuvio on "Little Pussy" Malanga (not to confuse with Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero) and wouldn't change it because Malanga was comfortable there and had the hit went down, all of the regular patrons would be permanently chased away. So Tony had the place firebombed to ensure a win-win for both parties (no hit at Vesuvio, and Artie could rebuild it with the pay-out from his insurance policy). Also, Tony kinda saved Artie's reputation.
Many fans feel this way about Tony and Janice's sister Barbara, the White Sheep who is completely disconnected from the mob and only makes sporadic appearances. The fact she managed to escape the cycle of abuse in their family would have been great to explore in further detail, especially as a Nature vs. Nurture character study.
Hunter, Meadow's troubled and slightly off-the-rails best friend, who returns after a prolonged absence for one final scene in the last episode. In the same season, a sub-plot has AJ connecting and beginning a relationship with a troubled — but suspiciously unfamiliar — past acquaintance while in rehab. Some feel that Hunter not playing this role instead was a missed opportunity.
A tragically unavoidable case with Livia Soprano. One of the show's best characters played to perfection by Nancy Marchand who unfortunately passed away during the run, which meant there was no choice but to kill Livia off.
Despite being Tony's heir apparent and surrogate son, Christopher's screentime with Meadow and AJ is very limited. Christopher and Meadow hardly interact after their subplot in "Denial, Anger, Acceptance" in Season 1, while he and AJ don't even get a scene together until "Mayham" in Season 6.
The Feds spend the series slowly building a set of RICO cases against the Soprano/Jersey Family. However, not once do we ever see Tony or the others in his inner circle being questioned by any of the local police in connection with the many murders or other acts of violence/intimidation they carry out. Not only does this come across as unrealistic, but it may have made for a funny and amusing narrative thread to have Tony and co. being hounded and harassed by a local cop, perhaps a Rabid Cop / Inspector Javert type who is just chomping at the bit to bust Tony for something.
There are many establishing shots of the Twin Towers in New York City, including in the opening sequence of Seasons 1-3.
Tony states that the American military never goes to war anymore.
Seasons filmed after 2001 make reference to the 9/11 attacks and The War on Terror. Tony tries to wrap his mind around the loss of life at the Bing. He later wonders whether two local Arab hoodlums are terrorists. When Carmela wins a trip to France, Tony says, "Those frogs hate us," referencing the wave of politically motivated Francophobia in the Aughts. Carmela expresses concern about "flying, these days" and the increase in security.
The soundtrack features many songs dated to the time period, such as "Oops, I Did It Again" by Britney Spears. Ironically, the appearance of The Shins' "New Slang" in season 4 predates the song's explosion in popularity following its use in Garden State.
Characters have flip phones if they have cell phones at all. Others carry pagers. CRT computer screens and primitive websites abound. AJ spends his time in internet chatrooms rather than social media.
In season 6, AJ gets a job at Blockbuster, a company that has almost entirely gone under note by "almost entirely," we mean there is literally one single store still operating .
The heyday of the classic Italian Mafia is even more a distant memory than it was when the show came out. The presence of Mafia leaders in national news stories and the constant griping of Italian-Americans about being associated with organized crime both come across as dated.
One of the mafia's main sources of income that is depicted throughout the show is running illegal sports betting books. New Jersey legalized sports betting in 2018, as did Pennsylvania and Delaware, which put a huge dent into the Mafia's business. New York followed in 2019, which basically killed illegal sports betting in the Mid-Atlantic.
The scene in the sauna where there is a discussion about the difficulties that many African-Americans face under a Republican administration felt out of place between 2009 and 2017, then felt topical between 2017 and 2021 and then felt out of place again.
Trapped by Mountain Lions: Carmela's "spec house" subplot is rather underwhelming beyond working as a device for new source of problems and conflict.
The worst case of this being Ralph Cifaretto, a depraved, Ax-Crazy mobster. We are supposed to feel sorry for him during his sympathetic momentsbefore his death. However, its difficult to side with Ralph when you realize that this is the same man who killed a pregnant woman with his bare hands.
Wangst: Most of Chris Moltisanti's screentime throughout Seasons 3 and 4 is spent getting drunk/high and going on long tangents of self-pity to Adriana. After he gets sober, most of his screentime is spent complaining to her and his AA compatriots about how nobody takes his sobriety seriously.
Woolseyism: The Japanese dub had a curious one regarding the episodes' titles: Unlike Japanese translations for episodes from other shows, when the titles are translated either literally or adapted to the context of said episode, the episodes titles of this show are one-word titles instead.note Technically speaking, they are two-letter (kanji) compounds, which, translated to English, forms a single word. This is was done since many of the titles in the original English version are either American idioms or shout-outs from shows unknown in Japan. Per example, the title of the first episode of the show, "The Sopranos", was renamed as "家族/Kazoku" (Family, after the titular family), "I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano" became "憎悪/Zōo" (Hatred), and so on. Curiously enough, the Japanese name of the last episode, "Made In America" was named "哀愁/Aishuu" (Sorrow), after the Japanese subtitle of the show, "哀愁のマフィア/Aishuu no Mafia" (The Sorrowful Mafia).
Writer Cop Out: As is often the case with a story with No Ending, many viewers view the end of the series as David Chase simply not wanting to commit to a decisive end to the series and giving us nothing instead.
The Pinball Game:
Values Dissonance: This occurs if the game is set with "Adult Mode" turned off. Apparently, cursing and profanity is bad, but committing arson, burying bodies in the Meadowlands, and beating up civilians in shakedowns is okay.