Tony with his ducks

Somehow I’ve managed not to watch any of the Sopranos until now, even though I’m a big fan of many of the shows that came in its wake (like The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, True Detective, etc). I was very excited to finally get round to it although slightly trepidatious that it wouldn’t live up to the hype–this is widely regarded as the best TV drama of the last 25 years, after all.

A few episodes in to the first season, and it seems that I had nothing to worry about. The Sopranos does a great job of pulling you in right from the start with a combination of humour, action, and human drama, and this has been consistent across the first several episodes. It is intelligently written and the main character, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), is very engaging and makes for a surprisingly likable and complex mobster cum family man. His vulnerabilities are clear from the outset, as is his sense of humour and his propensity for shocking violence. The famous sessions with his psychiatrist are at times funny, moving, and disturbing, and are always compelling.

The writing seems to display sensitivity and empathy in discussing psychology and complex behavioural issues and I can see now that it has been very influential in shaping other TV shows and films, although I’m not sure I’ve seen many that deal with these issues so well. The very first episode has a recurring theme about a family of ducks that have taken up residence in Tony’s backyard, and what the family symbolizes to him. This sort of plot point could easily take on a surreal or risible quality in lesser hands, but here it is profoundly affecting and I felt myself relating with the main character to a surprising degree.

One of the interesting things about this show is how the life of a mobster is depicted, with Tony talking about his role as a crime boss like any other job, and how he deals with the typical pressures and anxieties we encounter as we and our loved ones grow older. I’m interested to see how that develops. At the same time, it avoids glamorizing the mafia, with matter of fact exhibitions of extreme violence, and misogyny and racism. It’s also interesting to see the show reference the depiction of mob life in popular culture, and how the public perception of the mafia shapes the personas of certain characters in the show and also people’s reaction to them.

In terms of the plot, tensions with certain family members are already evident and I expect those will shape the direction of the series. The episodes are easy to burn through and I am going to have to resist watching several each evening. But with seven seasons to get through it should tide me over for a while to come.