What a clichéd, worn-out, stereotypical phrase that is. But pondering it now, how bittersweet in its familiarity for all of us who have followed for all of these seasons, the travails and triumphs of one of the most complex dramas ever to grace television.
Like so many fans are this very moment, I am pondering all of the time I've spent with these characters, marveling at missing the ones I loved to hate and hated to love, and how that sentiment equally applies to those still sticking around, starting first and foremost with the man affectionately known as "Skip."
James Gandolfini has built one hell of a career for himself, while mining the many layers of the complex and conflicted Anthony Soprano. He's a man constantly at odds with the demands made on him daily by the professional and personal sides of his life. He struggles at times to make the right choices that are possible to make, but like most of us, he manages to screw up and quite often at that. And like a lot of us, he is loving and fiercely protective of both his immediate family, and the family he is part of in "dis life he's chosen." But the similarities stop where most of us swear that we would do our best to kill anyone who would dare try to harm the members of our family. Tony doesn't just swear he'll do it...often he is called upon to do that very thing, (or to order someone else to take care of it), and he will do so without missing a beat.
But he's not without guilt, remorse, failings and all the different kinds of 'agita' that plague a major Mob boss and "devoted" family man. So, where's a guy like that to go when there are problems he can't even talk about with his wife or his closest confidantes?
Meet the sexy, sultry and skilled Dr. Jennifer Melfi. For the better part of seven seasons, Lorraine Bracco has imbued this psychiatrist with a cool veneer of moxie, charm and canniness that has done wonders for a profession where it's not a secret that at times the therapists can be more effed up than their clients. Her composure has very rarely ever cracked through all of Tony's tears, taunts and tantrums, even when there has been (and at times continues to be) a sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a hacksaw. And when her emotional walls have been breached, (as with her own shrink, Dr. Elliott Kupferberg, played by an unflappable Peter Bogdonavich), the audience has been treated to some Emmy-worthy television. No surprise, then, that this show has already been so lauded a gazillion times over.
Without preachiness or judgment, and never soft-selling the dastardly and despicable things they do to survive in the underworld of murder, drugs, graft, gambling and prostitution, THE SOPRANOS also deals with the frailties and very human failings of these "wiseguys" who may be "wise" when it comes to the Mob, but often not in the ways that count in their lives...dealing with their loved ones or even their own huge insecurities, for all their outer toughness.
And leave it to David Chase, the shrewd son-of-a-gun, to save the best revelations of characters' lives for the last. Paulie Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) discovering that his parentage was not what he thought it was, therefore leading him to question his very sense of self; caretaker Bobby 'Bacala' Baccalieri (Steven Schirripa) now having shifted his focus from the care and feeding of aging don "Junior" Soprano (Dominic Chianese), to his new wife and Tony's sister, Janice (Aida Turturro) and their newborn son, getting a taste of what Tony's had to go through; Tony's number one protégé Chris Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) who is stepping it up in his beefed-up role as a captain, still trying to reconcile his place in 'the life' with his ambitions to become a screenwriter/producer, and the demons that haunt him in his culpability for the death of his late fiancée, Adriana La Cerva (Drea De Matteo).
And how about Silvio Dante (amazing actor and E-Street band member Steven Van Zandt), Tony's trusted right hand and confidante, who has always been content to be a company man, now being urged to step into the spotlight by his missus ("reel"-and real-life wife Maureen Van Zandt)? Oh, I could just go on and on for pages and pages about the different core characters and their roles in the overall scheme (and schemING) of things, and all of the amazing guest stars who have added such considerable gravitas and grit to the mix (including Joe Pantoliano, frequent guest director Steve Buscemi, Tim Daly, Robert Patrick, Anabella Sciorra, Paul Mazursky, Ron Leibman, Frankie Valli and most recently Hal Holbrook).
There are people of narrow vision who claim that THE SOPRANOS has no value or merit whatsoever; that all it does is glorify the violent and amoral lifestyle of its renegade characters. I'd be willing to wager my next paycheck that the majority of these people have never seen a full episode, let alone part of one...That to them, what's on the surface is cut-and-dried. Sad that they'll never realize that this is simply about mobsters the way SIX FEET UNDER was only about a funeral home, or that DEADWOOD was nothing more than a dirty tale about lawlessness in the Old West.
Thanks to Mr. Chase and every single person who had anything to do with helping to provide us with a such a rarified glimpse into how the world that we first encountered through the efforts of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, has changed in our times today...
And for letting us do it from a safe distance, in the comfort of our living rooms.
As for the chance of an hour of dramatic television ever affecting our culture again on this scale?