Within the last couple years I was able to re-watch the entire series of The Sopranos, and whether it’s my time away from the program, my evolving “experience” in TV watching (lets pretend thats a thing), or whatever it was, I was completely bulled over by both the largeness and intimateness of the show. Something clicked in this run through of the series that really coalesced it’s elements into becoming my favourite TV show of all time (give or take The Simpsons), somewhat suddenly in the confidence of its proceedings. Season 6, the ultimate turning point for me, originally my least favourite season, opened up Pandora’s box this time around and it became my favouirte of the series, all perfect episodes mixed in with maybe two sub-par entries. Of course, there’s a lynch pin to everything that runs through The Sopranos gambit, a wholly defining entity. The whole show spins out of one central aspect, the one that has shaped my love of TV and progressed it further as a medium than can even be defined now, one character of Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini.
James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano is the greatest televison acting display I have ever seen on the medium. Now, obviously I haven’t seen every show ever made, but in my own conscious I can say without a doubt that I haven’t seen a better and more commanding piece of work than what Gandolfini play-acted, and I doubt I’ll see any better. He was so good that simultaneously it seemed like Gandolfini just rolled into set and wasn’t even acting at all, like this was a documentary, while the next minute his grandiose acting style would come out in full force. The thing is, though, I fucking hated Tony Soprano, as a character he was an asshole, backstabber, liar, selfish sonuvabitch who’s only saving grace at times seemed to be his admiration for his family, which was even tested at times. But, like many anti-hero led shows like The Shield, Breaking Bad and Mad Men among others, even though you might hate the character, you become utterly fascinated by their machinations, what makes them tick, and everything builds up for them only for it to be torn down. Gandolfini’s real-life pain bled into Tony Soprano and it showed to a tragic end in his acting method and our finished product on screen. Drinking and drug problems, and anxiety in his own acting abilities led to his struggles and dedication to getting the character right. We’re all in debt to Gandolfini no matter what manner you like The Sopranos or any measure of TV in general. His performance paved the way for basically all the anti-hero, and strong dramatic cable dramas you see on your TV now. There aren’t enough adjectives for me to continually describe how great Gandolfini was in The Sopranos, as well as everything else he did, and doing so would just be redundant.
While The Sopranos was Gandolfini’s break-out role, and one in which he was the lead star, he was just as great and memorable in bit film parts throughout his career that always carried weight no matter how long he spent on screen. Whether it was in True Romance, The Mexican, The Man Who Wasn’t There, In The Loop, Zero Dark Thirty or the presence of his inimitable voice in Where The Wild Things Are, Gandolfini was never featured all that prominently in film, but he was always recognized and remembered, sometimes providing humour or just by being that looming figure that lurked on the edges of the entire film. Even as recent as one of his last films in Killing Them Softly, one I wasn’t overly fond of, but through it like always, Gandolfini’s performance, as with the others, helped hold the film together and provide some humanistic elements that Gandolfini’s raw power always seems to deliver.
It’s still hard for me to comprehend that James Gandolfini isn’t with us anymore. Of course, I’ve never met him or anything like that, but The Sopranos is so much of a part of me and the cornerstone of why I like the medium of TV in the first place, it feels like I’m missing a part of me. James Gandolfini and the show as a whole gave me so much towards what you could do on television, how it could be bette than film, the performances it could harvest, the deep rooted themes it could explore, and the connections that could be built over 6 seasons and 86 episodes. We all owe Gandolfini a debt of gratitude for all the blood, sweat and tears that he shed for the show, the character, and the medium that saw a mini revolution under his eyes. While James Gandolfini is no longer with us, Tony Soprano still is and will always be, along with countless other memorable performances, laying in wait just ready to show us a side of Gandolfini that we never recognized before, an alternative view to a masterpiece.