For the better part of eight years (1999-2007), the writers and performers of The Sopranos held fans and critics spellbound. Episodes like Season Three’s “Pine Barrens,” which features a disappearing Russian, continue to stand out decades later.
But they didn’t all turn out great. Over the course of 86 episodes, you’re going to have a few duds. David Chase, the Sopranos creator and showrunner, admitted episodes like “Commendatori” could have gone better.
If you ask fans, there was nothing wrong with “Commendatori.” The show’s most loyal viewers tended to have problems with episodes in which Tony’s dreams dominate (as in Season Four’s “Calling All Cars”).
But if you look at the ratings of every Sopranos episode on IMDB, there’s only one that averaged less than an 8.0 out of 10. That was “Christopher,” the Season Four (2002) installment that centered around Columbus Day parade protests. And the unpleasantness carried over into real life.
Viewers disliked the departure from mob-related activities.
Early in this Sopranos episode, Bobby Baccala (Steve Schirripa) reads about a protest of the upcoming Columbus Day parade in Soprano country to the crew at Satriale’s. And Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) becomes irate.
Soon, the crew is clashing with Native American protesters and it gets violent. That leads both Tony (James Gandolfini) and Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano) on missions to get the protesters to back down. But both fail in their efforts, the demonstration continues, and Sil keeps the bad taste in his mouth.
At that point, viewers are probably wondering what this has to do with the mob. Nothing related to “the family” is jeopardized by the protest. And the man who’s suddenly incensed about it is Sil, a character mostly known for wry comments and solid advice.
In brief, the storyline doesn’t do much for the season (or the show in general). Scenes from a church luncheon, at which the speaker calls out the mob (and its connection to a few women in attendance), also come off as a bit of a distraction.
“Not our strongest,” Chase later admitted in an interview. However, he spoke of how he’d wanted to make a point with the episode and succeeded.
‘Sopranos’ actors dealt with their own real-life backlash.
In an interview published in The Sopranos Sessions, Chase explained what he wanted to do with “Christopher.” It began years earlier, when he worked on The Rockford Files. Instead of calling mob figures Soprano or Dante, he’d have to name them Anderson and Olsen. That infuriated Chase.
“I was just really, really tired of the hypocrisy of all those anti-Italian anti-[defamation charges],” he said. “And I was really tired of the fact that [Sopranos actors] weren’t allowed to march in Columbus Day parades or be involved in various charities, which I thought was really the worst.”
Indeed, Chase and his team faced backlash from groups like the ones he featured on the show. In 2002, a few weeks after Christopher aired, Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior) and Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi) got barred by court injunction from marching in Manhattan’s Columbus Day parade.
Responding to the controversy, Mayor Mike Bloomberg decided to sit out the parade as well. (He dined with Chianese and Bracco at an Italian restaurant instead.) So, all things considered, no one really won here, except for Chase on some levels.
“I don’t regret the episode, because I had so much vitriol piled up inside me that I didn’t care whether people liked it or not,” he told the New York Times. “I know everybody hates it,” he added with a laugh.