The Sopranos: The Mundane Life of a Mobster

By Annie Leibovitz – The Sopranos, New York City, 1999

The genius of ‘The Sopranos’ is not that it’s another entertaining mob story, it’s about how it presents the mundane aspect of an Italian-American family who happens to be involved in organized crime. Its main character, the capo of New Jersey’s Italian mafia, is not overly glamorized by his macho persona and frivolities, he’s a middle-aged man who suffers from depression and occasionally faints after having a panic attack.

If you ought to watch ‘The Sopranos’ you need to be in your HBO mood. This is not another show you leave in the background while you’re checking social media. ‘The Sopranos’ is one of those shows you want to pay attention to, even if it’s slow at first. It took me three tries in order to get past the first episode, but that’s just because I was an idiot and not ready for it.

This is one of those shows you watch if you’re interested in watching TV’s cult-classics. Nowadays, not many people pay attention to those, it’s more about what new show is trending but because I’m an avid TV fanatic I genuinely like to know and watch the ones that made a cultural impact.

The 2000’s The Platinum Age of Television

The show captures the life of Tony Soprano, a mobster from New Jersey, and it starts off with Tony going to therapy because he was having way too many panic attacks, and as one of the captains of the mafia, you can’t be fainting every moment; it shows weakness.

You’d think being a capo is all about projecting confidence and trusting your decision making, but for Tony, even though he does, he still feels insecure. He sees life as pointless and thinks of himself as a big failure. As true therapy does, Dr. Melfi (one of my favorite characters from the show besides Carmela Soprano) diagnoses Tony with depression, prescribes Prozac, and helps Tony realized his biggest torment in life is his mother and the constant look for her approval. Who would’ve thought that the head of the mob would be on Xanax?

It definitely doesn’t glamorize being a capo like ‘Scarface’ does. Tony has made some money and his family is well off, but there’s no bedazzled jewelry or extravagant cars and big mansions. They’re an upper-middle-class family living in the suburbs and both of the kids attend public school. The Soprano family looks more like your regular family with the exception that the man of the house has to “whack” people for underperforming.

I like how this show demystifies all the glory behind being “the boss”. Power comes with the territory, but it also comes with ten other captains who are waiting for you to slip so they can take your place. Tony has to constantly watch out for himself; today it’s the feds and tomorrow is his own uncle who’s trying to get rid of him. As the head of the family, who’s going to take care of them after he’s gone? Which is a question Carmela, Tony’s wife, asks all the time.

Carmela Soprano, which deserves a whole article of her own, it’s a key player in a show that’s male-centric. You could argue is due to lack of casting, but it’s also because Italian-American families (or at least in this show) are patriarchal. There’s tremendous respect for one’s own mother and each other’s mothers, but the women have very little say in the public sphere. They are wives, girlfriends, mothers, and daughters that’s it.

Carmela is devoted to her faith. She’s conflicted between being a good catholic and being complacent about her husband’s work. She knows Tony’s not in waste management, but she respects it. She keeps her distance enough of it so she doesn’t have to testify against him. She constantly expresses remorse about marrying Tony and following his lifestyle, but she doesn’t live his side. The marriage works… to an extent. She’s dealt with Tony’s infidelities for years, which bothers her, but is something that comes with the territory. They (Italian-American wives) have accepted it’s normal for their husbands to have girlfriends but one thing she asks of Tony is to keep it outside of her house.

Carmela is the main pillar of the Soprano family without her presence the family would crumble. Carmela offers Tony stability is his life. He knows he couldn’t go through with it if it wasn’t for her taking care of the rest. She maintains a good image of her family (even though everyone suspects Tony is part of “the mafia”), takes good care of them, and makes sure everything’s running smoothly.

Tony and Carmela want the best for their children: Meadow and Anthony Jr. They want them to go to college and make a living of their own. They never explicitly admit Tony’s in bad business, but everyone’s aware that their dad’s path is not the way to go, and at the same time they don’t like it when their kids rebel against his dad’s line of work because it shows ungratefulness.

The Sopranos are not the only ones, these mob families teach the newer generations to make a living on their own, trying to keep them as far away as they can from this line of business. They want their kids in college not in prison.

The show is not centered around what the mob is up to or who they’re killing. It’s about Tony Soprano’s life and how he deals with anxiety, his family, money, and the constant pursuit of the FBI. It’s about how much more similar we are to a mobster family than we think. Just because they’re in organized crime doesn’t make them exempt from the mundanities of everyday life or question why we are even here in the first place.

This is not a complete review of the show. By the time I’m writing this article, I’m on season 3 of the show. I’d like to do a review after I finish the show; this is more about making a case for you to watch it. A series of recommendations.

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