Sunday 23 June 2013

James Gandolfini: How the Sopranos changed television

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

The Sopranos is one of my favourite television shows of all time. The Sopranos and the HBO channel it was made by changed television.

I think it showed that TV could challenge films artistically. The Sopranos explored stories, themes and characters with a depth that simply isn't available in film.

I've always been interested in organised crime and the Mafia. When I first heard about the Sopranos I knew it was something that would appeal to me.

What I liked was that it wasn't really just about gangsters. Tony Soprano was a middle aged suburban husband and father with a senior level executive job. It just so happened that rather than working in government or finance, his profession was organised crime.

There were two sides to the Sopranos. On the one side it was a show about the Mafia and gangsters, but take away the gangster element and you were left with a family drama of suburban American life.

I loved how the Sopranos showed that being a member of the Mafia was just a day job, Tony Soprano was a stressed husband, he suffered from anxiety attacks, had a difficult relationship with his mother, two typical teenage children entering adulthood, and a challenging working environment.

These were things that so many of us could relate to, even if your day job didn't involve chopping up some unfortunate wiseguy.

The scale and success of The Sopranos allowed more TV dramas to develop and take on greater storytelling challenges. Without The Sopranos there wouldn't be The Wire, Mad Men, Broadwalk Empire and so many other great TV shows.

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