From 1999 through 2007, The Sopranos offered TV viewers an intimate look at an American mob family. Filmed on location in New Jersey and New York, The Sopranos heralded a new golden age of television. To this day, the remarkable HBO series stands as the best mob show ever made. Here’s why:
‘The Sopranos’ changed TV forever
Before the Home Box Office network decided to offer original drama shows in 1983, American TV programming was hobbled by super strict rules. Whether due to residual puritanism or fear of advertisers, television shows were mostly bland affairs that offered little in the way of adult situations or off-color language. That all changed with the advent of shows like The Larry Sanders Show and Sex and the City. Overnight, characters were allowed to cuss and behave like actual adults. You know, the way people really are in real life.
The Sopranos took a well-worn Mafia movie premise and brought it to the forefront of weekly TV drama. Although not especially original, the nascent HBO show was radical in its depiction of a battered and baffled mob boss named Tony Soprano. The unprecedented realism of The Sopranos provided a fascinating mix of surrealism and hyper-reality, explained The Guardian.
Other TV shows, including All in the Family, The Cosby Show, and The Simpsons were built around the concept of a troubled father, but none presented a seemingly strong man who was simultaneously fearful of his wife, mother, and therapist. Tony Soprano was all of those things, and a mass murderer, to boot.
Before The Sopranos was on television, David Chase pitched the idea of a mobster who seeks mental health treatment to movie producers. It was Chase’s manager, Lloyd Braun, who convinced Chase that the premise would make a fabulous TV series.
Tony Soprano’s mom, Livia, was supposed to pass away during the first season of the show. According to Mental Floss, original scripts included the death of Tony’s mother at his own hands. She did, after all, try to have him snuffed earlier in the season. Actress Nancy Marchand, who played the part of Tony’s mom, was terminally ill at the time, and Chase honored her wishes to keep working to the end. Livia’s last on-screen moments were constructed with the aid of CGI, a body double, and previously filmed footage.
Numerous Sopranos cast members also appeared in the mob-themed movie, Goodfellas. Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Michael Imperioli, Joseph R. Gannascoli, and Lorraine Bracco, along with 10 recurring characters and 11 guest actors did double duty as stars in Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece movie, explains Mental Floss.
Ray Liotta turned down a part in The Sopranos. He considered but declined an unspecified role on the TV show due to his own ego. In 2003, Liotta explained to his old college newspaper, the GW Hatchet:
There was no way I was gonna shine. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I love him [Gandolfini] as an actor. I think he’s great. But my ego’s as big as anybody’s.
Steven Van Zandt almost played Tony Soprano. Prior to auditioning James Gandolfini for the part of the murderous-yet-sensitive mob boss, Sopranos creator, David Chase, wanted Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist to portray the tough guy. In 2012, Chase explained why to Vanity Fair magazine:
My wife, Denise, and I were watching TV. Steven came on
VH1,when they were inducting the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steven gave the speech. He was very, very funny and magnetic. I said to my wife, ‘That guy has got to be in the show!’
Whatever your reasons for loving the Mafia-themed series, you’re not alone in your assessment that The Sopranos is and always will be the finest mob TV show ever produced.