So when the Sopranos came around, we were snobby about it. Oh, no, no. We like our gangsters dark and mysterious, and, well, a few generations behind us where they seem glamorous. Plus, I heard there were way too many boobs – both literal and figurative.
But then we saw the first scene of the first episode and we were hooked. Yes, the writing was stunning as were the production values, yet we kept asking ourselves after each episode, “why are we watching this? It’s horrible people doing horrible things.” The answer was James Gandolfini. He was the reason we kept watching a show about ghastly, ruthless criminals. And boobs.
Like many fictional mob bosses before him, Tony was never truly loved. He was feared, he was placated, he was made nice to. He was seen as a person who could give others what they wanted from him – money, power, revenge. Even his family - Carmella and her baked ziti, his kids with their entitled attitudes, his bats-o sister, patronizing uncle, and cruel mother – never show a deep abiding affection for him, more a fear of what would happen to their own circumstances should he die or be put in prison. And that - a life bereft of love - can make near anyone a sympathetic character.
There are many articles and blogs out there quick to point out that Gandolfini played many more roles, and beautifully. That he should not be remembered merely as Tony Soprano. And I agree. But it was his embodiment of this sad mob boss man-boy, that helped me to learn once again that a man’s soul cannot be judged by merely what we see. And that the human heart, left alone, bleeds.
So tonight we’ll be having some baked ziti in Gandolfini’s honor, followed by vodka and orange juice…with “some pulp.”