It was a common scene in “The Sopranos”: Mob boss Tony Soprano shuffling down his driveway in his bathrobe and slippers to pick up his newspaper and read the headlines. Two former reporters from that paper, The Star-Ledger, who covered the show throughout its seven-season run have a new book, “The Sopranos Sessions” in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary. The duo, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, will appear at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on March 25 for a Q&A discussion and book signing reception.
“The Sopranos was the moment that changed television more than anything,” says Sepinwall, who covered seasons 4 through 6A and B. “TV became exciting and it seemed to the lap the movies in terms of the culture conversation.”
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much initial hype surrounding the now-legendary show about a mobster who balances his crew and his family while in therapy.
“Nobody even knew if it was going to make it past the first season. It wasn’t expected to be a hit,” says Seitz, who reported on seasons 1-3. “They thought maybe the critics would pay attention to it. When the show became a success, it was shocking to everybody.”
In the book, it’s discussed how the audience was drawn to the characters despite them being despicable criminals who murder and steal.
“When you invite people into your home every week for 13 weeks a year, you start to feel affection for them. It doesn’t matter how likable or unlikable they are. Familiarity breeds affection almost inevitably,” says Seitz. “They are virtual family members to us.”
The center of that character universe is Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini, who showed a wide range of emotions throughout the series.
“Gandolfini was a tremendous actor who had charisma, but he was able to seem completely relatable, completely sympathetic and completely monstrous sometimes in the same scene,” says Sepinwall. “He could go anywhere the show needed him to go.”
Seitz adds, “James Gandolfini was very funny, sweet and there was something childlike about him. Despite being an extremely heavy guy who was basically bald, he was sexy. There was an animal energy to him that particularly women found very attractive. That complicated our reaction to this guy who was essentially a racketeering murderous pimp.”
Seitz sees Tony’s psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco, as the viewer’s voice in the show because she’s an outsider and a moralist.
“Dr. Melfi is trying to get Tony to realize that the reason he’s depressed is because he’s a gangster,” says Seitz. “But because of the depths of his conditioning that’s a fundamental truth he can never face.”
THAT’S ALL FOLKS
The series' finale remains perhaps one of the most-analyzed moments in television history — it left fans wondering what happened to Tony as the screen simply went black for the last 10 seconds of the episode.
“Thinking Tony is dead is certainly a reasonable interpretation to take from it. But, you do not see him die therefore you can look at that scene and interpret it a lot of different ways,” says Sepinwall. “David Chase [show creator] was more interested in the fragility of mortality. The fact that our lives are on loan and that loan can be called due without warning. He said the final scene is not a puzzle to be solved.”
Show creator David Chase, who spoke in detail with Seitz and Sepinwall for the book, expressed his frustration with having to explain the meaning behind his own work.
“Chase was looking for a more holistic response, where you kind of accept all of it as part of the same continuum. He is a very mercurial person who gets easily frustrated by being misconstrued,” says Seitz. “In a way it’s the most violent ending in the history of TV because of what it does to the audience psychologically. We’ve spent years wondering what happened and we are never going to know.”
“THE SOPRANOS SESSIONS” Q&A + book signing
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. March 25, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Avenue in Huntington
INFO 631-423-7610, cinemaartscentre.org