An HBO Production
Created by David Chase
In his insightful documentary, A Personal Journey through American Film , Martin Scorcese points out that there are only a few film genres that are truly American inventions: the Western, the Musical, and the Mob Movie. The Sopranos is the current high point of development of one of our native American art forms.
The setup of The Sopranos is simple enough: Anthony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is a capo in the New Jersey mob. He's on his way up, he's been made already, and yet all is not well. His wife is fed up with his late nights and affairs, his son is having trouble at school, his teenage daughter is figuring out far too much about the family's wealth and not complacent about it... and oh yeah, the rest of the 'family'. Middle management has never been so interesting to watch in action.
Like any good TV series, different episodes highlight different characters; we might see Chris (Michael Imperioli) strike out to find a life with his girlfriend; we might hear how Hesh (Jerry Adler), the last Jewish remnant in this branch of the mob, helps Anthony with problem-solving in the course of business, or we might just watch some family dynamics. While few of the episodes are plots we haven't seen before, what makes the series so watchable is the consistent use of counterpoint (two plots about completely different activites on the surface are emotionally unified; characters act in opposition with the same motivation; a little missing knowledge goes a long way).
One brilliant plot device is the setup for the show: in the first episode, bothered by persistant depression, Anthony starts to see a phychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Although he's always a little cagey -- the two characters continually dance around the edge of what Dr. Melfi can legally be allowed to know -- the device allows Anthony to naturally fill Dr. Melfi and the audience in on what emotions will dominate for the next hour.
For awhile lack of cable was a valid reason to not be watching The Sopranos , but now that they're out on DVD you're out of excuses. Get busy now, or you'll have even more seasons to catch up on once you start!