“The Sopranos” was a genius effort that broke television ground in the unpredictable parallels in plot, rich characters, noir comedy and unresolved story lines that inspired loyalty with viewers.
Anti-hero Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and show creator David Chase’s artful mixing of sex, violence and a veracity of gangster language mixed with everyday suburban life was a hit from the beginning.
The death of “The Sopranos” series on HBO is another kick in the gut, and just on the heels of “Rome” folding too. “The Sopranos,” unlike “Rome,” elicits a different feeling of loss for me, a much more personal one marking a time and place for me long gone.
My early, single-digit years in the early seventies were spent in one square mile sized town in the North Shore of Boston, a small island that was primarily Italian, Irish, and Greek and a bit of Yankee white hell, with a smattering of ultra wealthy Boston Brahmin types no one ever saw or spoke with.
The town was a bucolic lump of granite in Massachusetts Bay, next to Lynn, where the locals would point out the black smoke rising from another round of “Jewish Lightning,” when abandoned ancient red brick buildings fell to arsonists. There was no such thing as PC anything back then.
These were days really young kids could hop the causeway bus to the Wonderland station blue line “T”, and navigate it to Fenway Park every Baseball season, buying dollar bleacher seats, making smoochy noises at the Conigliaro brothers, Carl ‘Yaz’ Yastrzremski, Bill Lee and Carlton ‘Pudge’ Fisk, and make it home for supper.
Guys like Chase’s vivid characters were all around me. I knew a Tony Soprano. The boss of the New England crime family lived in my town. At beach bonfires and evening public stairs gatherings we told hushed stories of armed guards patrolling the property, St. Joseph’s table feast guests who were never seen again. We “townies” gave wide berth to the portly capo’s heir, looking the other way whenever he behaved badly.
Tony’s castrating mother’s Livia (the late Nancy Marchand) with her Boston accent only made the melancholic humor of her ascerbic lines sharper. I had uncles who had nightclubs and Italian restaurants, and like Tony’s kids, my brother and I were told never to ask what they did, or why they had manicured hands, pinky rings and carried prodigious amounts of cash at all times.
So now we come to swan song season of “The Sopranos” beginning of the end on Easter Sunday, the rotten eggs are back. What will become of them?
Tony’s near-death epiphany inspired a pureness of conscience that seems to be fading like a well-intentioned New Year’ resolution. Janice will never change; she is the perfect pathological opportunist, changing her stripes in each surrounding she finds herself in. Carmela cloaked in her Catholicism while strong-arming neighbors with Ricotta pies and cryptic threats; just like “Rome’s” Atia of the Julii, her family comes first. AJ, his continued selfishness a liability in overachieving sister Meadow’s shadow.
Tony’s conscience and guilt for the deaths of Adriana, little Jackie Aprile, Tony Blundetto, Ralphie, and the fate of Uncle June that gnaws will most certainly manifest, but how? Will the bitter and cruel Phil Leotardo exact his revenge through the New York family, or will Tony’s demise be at the hands of the FBI?
Then there is my favorite character of all; the one I will miss the most.
In the Scorsese film “Goodfellas,” actor Tony Sirico played a gangster named Tony who reports to a boss named Paulie. In Chase’s “The Sopranos,” he plays a mobster named Paulie who reports to a boss named Tony.
Paulie “Walnuts” Gaultier got his moniker by hijacking a truck reportedly full of loot, only to find it was hauling walnuts.
The Cadillac man’s scenes stole the show, especially with Christopher Moltisante (Michael Imperioli) when the two were stranded in the Jersey Pine Barrens trying to dispose of the “dead” Russian, ransacking Adriana’s panty drawer, seeing a psychic and subsequently being asked to leave because a cacophony of his crime victims squealed on him to the medium, his constant non-sequiturs, mangled English and lessons in public restroom hygiene, “tuck the shoelaces in your shoes so they don’t soak up the piss,” the scenes between him and the great Ralphie Cifareti (Joe Pantoliano) who pushes his buttons. Paulie had a snappy comeback for any wise guy that cramped his style.
Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri: So what was the story with Princess Di? Did the Queen have her whacked?
Christopher: Like you were ever in Paris.
Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri: I went for a blow job. Your mom was working the bon-bon concession at the Eiffel Tower.
In the last season, Paulie found out his dying aunt Dotty, a nun, was actually his mother who had been impregnated by a soldier. Paulie’s beloved Nucci, it turned out, who he thought was his mother was really his aunt, taking him in to hide the scandal.
After a cancer diagnosis, a surreal visit from the Virgin Mary at the series Rosetta stone, the Bada Bing, sends Paulie back to Nucci’s forgiving arms, cookies and Lawrence Welk.
Sunday nights that had been solely reserved for “Rome” and my weekly date with Titus Pullo have now been replaced by the New Jersey Italian-American extended crime family.
This void left by the wrapping of these exceptional HBO series is tough. “The Sopranos” fading away has me mourning a bit of my own past, and voices of people long gone.