Accolades have been raining down on HBO's hour-long, weekly drama The Sopranos ever since it debuted. "The mob hit you can't refuse," pronounced TV Guide. "HBO's critically acclaimed and criminally addictive 'family' show," clamored Entertainment Weekly. "The greatest work of American pop culture of the past quarter-century," raved The New York Times. An average of 10 million people tune in each week, prompting HBO to brag that The Sopranos is the most watched cable series ever. Is all that ring-kissing deserved? Hardly.
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) heads up a New Jersey crime family. He juggles "business" with fatherhood as two of his children, Meadow and Anthony Jr., race through their teens. Knowing Dad is a criminal (and therefore unable to exert moral authority), neither child feels compelled to "live right." Even when Meadow gets drunk at a high school drug party, her only punishment is to have her Discover card confiscated for three weeks. It doesn't help that Tony's methods of leadership-for both of his "families"-are vulgar, violent and grossly inconsistent.
USA Today TV columnist Robert Bianco gave the series four stars out of four, but had the sense to warn new viewers that "The Sopranos is not some fun mobster romp-the impression you might get from some of those cutesy magazine covers out there. This is a profane, sexually explicit, often shockingly violent drama." That's a serious understatement.
Tony deals drugs, oversees a gambling operation and is a master of extortion. Henchmen carry out hits in gruesome fashion. One opponent's head gets blown off. A man's back snaps when he's repeatedly rammed with a car. And baseball bat-wielding hoodlums attack a group of black protesters who just happen to picket the "wrong" company.
Dialogue includes an average of one f-word a minute. That average doubles or even triples upon adding s-words, racial slurs, blasphemies and other vulgarities (some of them too vile to reference). Also featured are topless dancers, lengthy nude scenes, on-screen depictions of prostitution and sexual activity, and uninhibited discussions of straight and gay sex.
If ever there was a time to ignore the hype, turn a blind eye to the ads and disbelieve the critical acclaim, this is it. Isaiah 5:20 applies. The Sopranos is a repulsive peep show that celebrates the behavior of self-destructive people who live devoid of conscience and bereft of morality or human decency.
Episodes Reviewed: Fall 2001