Murder and Mortadella: Re-watching The Sopranos

 Murder and Mortadella 

I gained five pounds re-watching The Sopranos. You may scoff but my body has a way of inhaling calories, whether walking by a bakery, sniffing homemade cookies or merely watching a commercial for Dunkin Donuts. And would it be hospitable to let the Soprano family eat alone? Being part Italian I have a special place in my heart for all things pasta and if you pay close attention not five minutes goes by on The Sopranos where they are not eating. Let’s go take someone out. Okay, but have the mortadella ready when I get back. And it always is. Every scene is laced with food or violence and Edie Falco spends almost every scene in the kitchen serving up something with a tomato base. 

I’m not complaining mind you because re-watching The Sopranos was actually better than the first time. How many things in life can top itself after achieving perfection initially? Very few I’d venture. I was inspired to re-watch after HBO recently released its Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark starring James Gandolfini’s actual son, Michael. Of course the fact he looked so much like his father and brought him to life so beautifully only served as catnip to a cat craving a good fix of my Sopranos addiction. Okay, yes we all know it can never happen again with Gandolfini gone and supposedly murdered at the end, I’m still smarting from that one by the way. To a true fan there is always that small shred of hope maybe we were wrong and it was just his daughter he lifted his head to see at the end. Yes, to a Sopranos fan hope springs eternal. I felt the need to re-watch it although it took a couple of weeks of sitting on the couch eating pizza to accomplish my mission.

Between inhaling the calories off the screen and shoving Italian goodies in my mouth I didn’t stand a chance. It wasn’t exactly like watching Richard Simmons dancing to the oldies.Yet despite the fact I’d seen it before I was mesmerized. I saw new moments, caught lines, read expressions I’d totally missed the first time around. The more I watched the more I took pleasure in every morsel, like eating chocolate after a ten-week diet. I savored each second especially Gandolfini knowing I’d never be able to witness his genius anew. I was completely impressed with Edie Falco’s cooking skills and Paulie Walnuts’ total ability to be a giant asshole and yet survive it all. So surprising because I felt sure someone was going to nail his miserable ass any minute. Every character brought a whole new appreciation as I watched Nancy Marchand play the mother from hell, Uncle Junior evil as Satan and Tony’s sister, his kids and nephew Michael Imperioli really bring the term dysfunctional family to life. Why should I be surprised when most fans can watch The Godfather, one and two, of course, over and over. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve see those movies but when I see them playing I’m drawn toward that channel like a shopaholic to a Black Friday sale. Why does it seem like evil is far more interesting than goodness? I don’t know anyone personally who has re-watched Touched by an Angel episodes over fifty times. That is not to say it is lacking as a show and undermine its feel good effect, but let’s face it, there is something so intriguing about evil characters. Tony Soprano was a mass of contradiction, a lovable teddy bear one minute and then beating the life out of someone the next. The Angel and Devil on his shoulder effect was incredibly magnetic.

Why are we so fascinated by that behavior?The complexity of the nature of a Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano, has I’m certain, been studied ad nauseum, but it might just be very simple; perhaps there is a bit of them within us all. It’s pretty basic I guess, we all have free choice to be good or evil, or both. That’s the concept isn’t it? Yet is it true? Does a sociopath really have free choice or are they a prisoner to the evil dominating their nature. Not to make any excuses of course for perpetrators of unconscionable deeds. Still, that is what mystifies me most. If given the choice would Tony Soprano choose only to be good? Obviously not, but a small part of us wishes Lorraine Bracco, his long suffering and optimistic psychiatrist could’ve succeeded and he’d seen the error of his ways allowing nice Tony to overcome. Is that insight into our own characters instead of his? I guess I’m inclined to believe it is.

Watching Marlon Brando die in that tomato garden playing with his grandson showed him to be very human, yet we all know his prevailing nature wasn’t. So why are we drawn to such complex characters? Maybe it’s the need in us to hope and believe good will overcome evil. Or for many women that a man will change and his dark side or bad boy inside will disappear. Or perhaps it’s simply the battle between good and evil in one soul is a potent cocktail to watch.

Ever since Jimmy Cagney yelled “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” as he unloaded his gun and was shot to death in White Heat, we’ve witnessed a genre in movies and literature that has drawn and fascinated us without fail. Whether Tony Soprano, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Stephen King or Hitchcock these creations and creators knew the secret to keeping a reader or viewer caught up and totally hooked.

With The Sopranos of course it was all that and so very much more, including the eggplant parmigiana.

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