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Front cover

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This series is designed to collect and publish the best scholarly writing on various aspects of television, film, the Internet, and other media of today. Along with providing original insights and explorations of critical themes, the series is intended to provide readers with the best available resources for an in-depth understanding of the fundamental issues...

Copyright

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Contents

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Foreword

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pp. ix-xi

Sopranos Snapshot #1: June 2007. It’s the night of the telecast of the much-anticipated final episode of David Chase’s The Sopranos, and at its Manhattan headquarters, HBO has invited a small select group of TV critics to view the final episode an hour or so early in a private screening; they are then ushered to separate cubbyhole offices to write breaking- ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

The essays that compose this volume were originally given as talks at the Sopranos Wake held at Fordham University, New York, on May 22–25, 2008. The editors of this book—Doug Howard, Paul Levinson, and myself—were the co-conveners of the conference, which sought (as its name was intended to suggest) to both mourn the passing of and celebrate ...

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The Sopranos as Tipping Point in the Second Coming of HBO

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pp. 7-16

By the early years of the twenty-first century, HBO was the most talked about, widely celebrated, and profitable network in television. On September 19, 2004, it made TV history by winning a staggering 32 Emmy Awards after receiving a record-setting 124 nominations (Weinraub B11). “This will never happen again,” admitted HBO’s newest chairman...

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From Made Men to Mad Men: What Matthew Weiner Learned from David Chase

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pp. 17-22

To no one’s surprise, the arrival of 2010 saw The Sopranos (HBO, 1999– 2007) included in many lists of top television series of the first decade of the twenty-first century.1 On virtually all of these lists, The Sopranos was accompanied by the multi–Emmy Award–winning Mad Men (AMC, 2007–), a basic cable series about a 1960s Madison Avenue advertising ...

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The Sopranos: If Nothing Is Real, You Have Overpaid for Your Carpet

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pp. 23-40

There is something fragile about the brutal world of The Sopranos. Threading the bouts of violent physical action, ostentatious wealth, emotional savagery, and shameless lies are uneasy dreams, unexpected fatal disease, therapeutic probes of the mystery of identity, and a pervasive fear that the world is “all a big nothing.” Clearly this is not the ...

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Author(iz)ing Chase

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pp. 41-56

In critically evaluating, and ultimately celebrating, the achievement of David Chase and The Sopranos, this essay assumes a critical distance and takes a somewhat circuitous route. It is prompted by a widespread disposition among fans—and, as it appeared at the Sopranos Wake conference, many academics—to construct a discourse around Chase him- ...

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"Half a Wiseguy": Paulie Walnuts, Meet Tom Stoppard

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pp. 57-64

By way of making clearer the thematic connection to Tom Stoppard in this meditation on The Sopranos, I want to share a few lines from Stoppard’s masterpiece of absurdism, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966). In this now iconic play, Stoppard brings together Shakespeare and influences such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and ...

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Christopher, Osama, and A.J.: Contemporary Narcissism and Terrorism in The Sopranos

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pp. 65-80

In his now famous “crisis of confidence” (a.k.a. “malaise”) speech, which he delivered on July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter expounded: “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning ...

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"When It Comes to Daughters, All Bets Are Off": The Seductive Father-Daughter Relationship of Tony and Meadow Soprano

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pp. 81-92

When The Sopranos begins, Carmela Soprano and her teenage daughter, Meadow, are on the outs. Carmela catches Meadow attempting to sneak back into the house through her bedroom window after violating curfew. She is unmoved by a petulant Meadow’s excuse for breaking the rules: Meadow cries, “Patrick has a swim meet tomorrow and he needed ...

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"Blabbermouth Cunts"; or, Speaking in Tongues: Narrative Crises for Women in The Sopranos and Feminist Dilemmas

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pp. 93-104

Talking about the Sopranos women always gets us into some kind of trouble. In trying to make sense of the closed Soprano world defined by family, Mafia, Catholicism, and strict generic rules, we continually question our investment in a TV universe that does women few favors. The more we struggle to find appropriate ways to think and talk about ...

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Honoring the Social Compact: The Last Temptation of Melfi

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pp. 105-113

The overriding plot arc of the thirtieth episode of The Sopranos, “Employee of the Month” (3.4), explicitly portrays Dr. Jennifer Melfi ’s temptation to have her most dangerous and sociopathic patient, Tony Soprano, revenge the violent attack and rape she suffers in an empty parking garage. Although such a plotline seems fairly straightforward, ...

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A "Finook" in the Crew: Vito Spatafore, The Sopranos, and the Queering of the Mafia Genre

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pp. 114-126

Throughout its eight-year run, The Sopranos scrutinized categories such as “the Mafia,” “the gangster,” “Italian American,” and “American” and reconceived them, demythicizing conventional wisdom and forcing us to look at them anew. The Mafia, for example, was not the thriving enterprise of the immediate post–World War II years depicted in the ...

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The Producers: The Dangers of Filmmaking in The Sopranos

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pp. 127-136

In the very first episode of The Sopranos (1.1), a conflict erupts between Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti over Christopher’s threat to turn his life story into a screenplay. Tony angrily tells Christopher, “I’ll fucking kill you. What you gonna do, go Henry Hill on me now? You know how many mobsters are selling screenplays and screwing every-...

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Comfortably Numb?: The Sopranos, New Brutalism, and the Last Temptation of Chris

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pp. 137-148

I have argued elsewhere that The Sopranos implicitly offers a critique of a new breed of crime movie most commonly referred to as “new brutalism” (see “TV Ruined the Movies”). This can be clearly seen through two characters at seemingly different ends of the same generic spectrum, Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti. Although both are danger- ...

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Fishes and Football Coaches: The Narrative Necessity of Dreams in The Sopranos

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pp. 149-156

More than anything else in The Sopranos, its dream sequences divided the show’s fans between those sometimes referred to as the “hits and tits” crowd and those more appreciative of the characters’ oneiric experiences. Those fans preferring the program’s much more frequent displays of blood and flesh argued that these were the integral elements of the ...

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From Here to InFinnerty: Tony Soprano and the American Way

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pp. 157-165

As fellow critics have pointed out in a myriad of published studies on the series, The Sopranos challenges the traditional gangster genre formula and brings the mob closer to all of us: Tony and his gang inhabit a recognizable world of Starbucks, suburbia, and SUVs. They discuss issues of the day, the same ones we discuss when we turn off the TV after...

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"Whatever Happened to Stop and Smell the Roses?": The Sopranos as Anti-therapeutic Narrative

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pp. 166-182

In 2004, Mike Lippman speculated about the eventual outcome of The Sopranos as a series and Tony Soprano as a character: “Tony will most likely end up dead or in jail, but he will certainly become more and more isolated from the people he loves along the way. He will change from a man surrounded by family to a man who will ultimately suffer...

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Mangia Mafia!: Food, Punishment, and Cultural Identity in The Sopranos

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pp. 183-195

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” This pithy evocation of violence and dessert, first uttered in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic The Godfather (1972), conjures up commonly shared images that, for better or worse, define Italian American culture in the popular American mind. From Mario Puzo’s Corleone saga to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), the...

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The Guinea as Tragic Hero: The Complex Representation of Italian Americans in The Sopranos

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pp. 196-207

This chapter begins with a personal anecdote. The first time I Googled my name, the first listing to appear was in the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films. Under the listing for Gentleman’s Fate (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931), the catalog read, “Wealthy gentleman Jack Thomas [John Gilbert] is told that his real name is Giacomo Tomasulo. . . . When Jack ...

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"All Caucasians Look Alike": Dreams of Whiteness at the End of The Sopranos

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pp. 208-220

Dreams play a significant role in the narrative development of The Sopranos. From the nightmare opening scene of “Meadowlands” (1.4) to the extended oneiric sequence that makes up almost half of “The Test Dream” (5.11), each season of the series devotes progressively more and more screen time to the depiction of Tony’s dreams. Yet it is not until ...

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Representations of Law and Justice in The Sopranos: An Introduction

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pp. 221-228

Where is there any law in The Sopranos? At first sight, this is not a show representing any aspect of the law or the legal system. The series is about outlaws, so where is the law? In fact, at the very least, there is representation of the law through its agents: the police and the FBI, and sometimes lawyers. Tony Soprano and his collaborators constantly fear ...

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Lawyer-Client Relations as Seen in The Sopranos

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pp. 229-231

Just a few scenes from Johnny Sack’s arrest and prosecution in seasons five and six of The Sopranos accomplish two things: first, they show some of the nuts and bolts of criminal cases without using too much dramatic license and without boring the audience to tears. Second, and more significant, they accurately depict what occurs in the relationship between ...

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"This Isn't a Negotiation": "Getting to Yes" with Tony Soprano

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pp. 232-242

As reigning boss of the New Jersey Mafia, Anthony Soprano knows how to negotiate. Over the course of the six-season Sopranos series, he maintains his precarious leadership position within a combustible criminal organization through his ability to read the behaviors of colleagues, competitors, and clients and tailor his negotiation approaches accord- ...

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The Price of Stereotype: The Representation of the Mafia in Italy and the United States in The Sopranos

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pp. 243-245

It must be understood that the Mafia phenomenon is not merely criminal but has cultural and social roots. In our society, so deeply influenced by mass media and stereotypes that are carried by a televisual culture, any autoreferential attitude of conceit would be disastrous. This is why, to an anti-Mafia prosecutor, studying Mafia representation is of great...

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The Image of Justice in The Sopranos

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pp. 246-256

The complexity of modern society as seen in The Sopranos through the metaphor of Tony’s double family (the mob and his blood relatives) represents a crisis of the traditional role of justice in films and TV series. The series created by David Chase is not just a different representation of organized crime, overcoming the stereotype of the boss as a...

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"Funny about God, and Fate, and Shit Like That": The Imminent Unexpected in The Sopranos

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pp. 257-265

Some claim that a divine design—call it “God’s will”—dictates the course of human events. Others claim that chaos reigns—no God, no overarching “plan” to anything. In traditional Western storytelling, plan imbues unified meaning to a text: an author purposely arranges incidents to constitute a plot in accordance with authorial will. However,...

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The Sopranos and History

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pp. 266-276

Already notable for critical accolades that acclaimed it one of the greatest television series and dramas of all time and, in the case of critic Ellen Willis, even compared it to nineteenth-century literary masterpieces such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch (2), The Sopranos is famous for its violence and strings of murders; indeed the question of who was going ...

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Silence in The Sopranos

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pp. 277-288

Silence can be uncomfortable. It can be used to unsettle, shaped to make things awkward or prove a point. Equally, silence can be empty, abstract, reaching and airy. It is often seen as unwanted or dangerous, something to be quickly stopped up, even if only by so much white noise. The Sopranos is particularly sensitive to the qualities of silence, its ...

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"What's Different between You and Me": Carmela, the Audience, and the End

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pp. 289-296

Few moments in television history have so energized, enlivened, and enraged an audience as the ending of “Made in America” (6.21), the final episode of The Sopranos. In an interview conducted shortly after the episode aired (and included in the invaluable book by Brett Martin, The Sopranos: The Complete Book), as millions of viewers were ...

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Unpredictable but Inevitable: That Last Scene

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pp. 297-302

I know, I know: David Chase has avowed that Tony does not get whacked at the end of The Sopranos. And even if we set aside the aesthetic imperative of a profitable Sopranos movie or twelve, Chase might be expected to know because he conceived the whole drama and supervised every instant, every component, across the six seasons, and in fact both wrote ...

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No Justice for All: The FBI, Cut to Black, and David Chase's Final Hit

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pp. 303-312

And so it ends, not with a bang or a whimper, but with an order of onion rings, a few tense moments in a restaurant, some sentimental Journey music, and one jarring cut to black that left us all scrambling for our remotes and wondering whether our televisions had cruelly cut out at the fatal moment. In television series history, it was, and perhaps always ...

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The Sopranos and the Closure Junkies

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pp. 313-316

In the minutes after the sudden darkness at the end of The Sopranos, I struggled to make sense of what I had seen. Actually, that struggle lasted hours, days, months . . . years. In some diminished form, it’s still going on. And perhaps “struggle” is not the best word, because I’ve enjoyed this process. Like all fine intellectual jousts, there’s fun to be had in the ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 317-318

Thanks to Al Auster for help with organization of the Sopranos conference at Fordham University; Bob Milang for facilitating arrangements for the interview with Dominic Chianese; and Tina, Simon, and Molly for great conversations as we watched The Sopranos at home. —Paul Levinson

Appendix A: Characters

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pp. 319-322

Appendix B: Episode Guide

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pp. 323-326

Appendix C: Intertextual References and Allusions in Season Six / Compiled by Sara Caitlin Lavery

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pp. 327-338

Appendix D: A Conversation with Dominic Chianese, The Sopranos' Uncle Junior

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pp. 339-362

Bibliography

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pp. 363-375

Contributors

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pp. 377-381

Index

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pp. 383-392