During the spring semester of my junior year in college, I went through a crippling depressive episode. I started sleeping during the day and bowing out of social obligations. Looking back, I probably should’ve just gone to therapy, but instead, I started The Sopranos. I watched all six seasons in about six weeks and emerged from my HBO cave as a new woman. (This wasn’t the last time a show lifted me out of a downward spiral—my Great Depression of Fall 2016 was alleviated by consuming every season of Mad Men at an unrelenting pace.)
While it's not a good idea to replace professional psychological help with a streaming service, prestige television can be therapeutic. As I immersed myself in The Sopranos, the triggers of my depressive episode faded into the background. The sting of Tony’s betrayals of Carmela, Meadow’s compounding teenage angst, and the messiness of Christopher’s various addictions (plus, you know, the whole mob thing) took their place.
There’s quite a bit of watching in this newsletter because our cultural obsession with the Mafia plays out quite nicely on screen, and there’s a whole cadre of Hollywood stars devoted almost exclusively to this genre. I realize that it would be difficult (but not impossible!) to watch the entire series of The Sopranos in one weekend or even in a week so use this newsletter as inspiration to jump-start your own mafioso journey.
🎥 Watch: The Sopranos
Much has been written about Tony Soprano as the original anti-hero, why we root for him despite his misdeeds, and how The Sopranos ushered in an era of top-notch television. What I’m going to say about the whole series is:
1) Carmela’s entire wardrobe, specifically this situation, deserves a museum to itself.
2) For a brief moment, I considered becoming a psychiatrist because I was inspired by Dr. Melfi and her exquisite pantsuit collection.
3) Whenever I talk about The Sopranos with other women, I like to ask them if they’re attracted to Tony. If they say yes, I know we can be friends.
🎥 Watch: Goodfellas
It’s a classic for a reason. 27 actors overlap between Goodfellas and The Sopranos—Lorraine Bracco who plays Karen Hill and Dr. Melfi, Michael Imperioli who plays Spider and Christopher Moltisanti, and Tony Sirico as Tony Sacks and Paulie Walnuts, to name a few. Goodfellas follows the true story of Henry Hill, a mobster-turned-informant as the walls of his illicit business start closing in around him. It’s a fun watch because every recognizable actor is so young and you can shout that every time they appear on the screen.
Runner-up: My Blue Heaven was released the same year as Goodfellas and is a comedic interpretation of the life of Henry Hill starring Steve Martin and Joan Cusack. Nora Ephron, who wrote My Blue Heaven, was married to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote Wiseguy, the book that Goodfellas is based on.
📚 Read: The Sopranos Sessions
In The Sopranos Sessions, New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz and Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall deep-dive into every episode, sit down with David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, and like everyone else who watched the show, grapple with the ambiguous series finale. Seitz and Sepinwall wrote about The Sopranos as the show was airing weekly on HBO and some of their early writings are also included. It’s pegged as a definitive guide to the show that launched the Golden Age of Television.
🍝 Make: Eggplant Parm
As my quarantine cooking practices slowly become bleaker—PB&Js, frozen meals, cans of soup—the more I long for a dinner table like that of Carmela Soprano. Each food item has its own dish! There are a salad AND rolls with every meal! There are always leftovers! The Sopranos is a celebration of Italian food, expertly woven into plot details and character development, like when loyal Soprano soldier and gentle giant Bobby Baccalieri’s wife, Karen, dies and he can’t bring himself to defrost some of her leftover baked ziti. For Esquire, actor Stephen Schirripa who plays Baccalieri shares his mother’s eggplant parm recipe. Pairs nicely with a Chianti and some drama. (Also ziti-related is one of my favorite lines of the show said by a young AJ upon hearing his grandma isn’t coming to his birthday: “So what, no fuckin ziti now?” )
🍰 Bake: Tiramisu
Something I learned in the writing of this newsletter is that people who make tiramisu from scratch are very precious about how to make tiramisu from scratch. Just look at the comments on this recipe. It’s fine! Make it however you want. But do make it for when you have Sopranos night or watch one of the movies above. Bonus idea: A few years ago, my sister and I used to go over to her friends’ house for Sopranos night once a week. To mark the occasion, she made tiramisu and stenciled an outline of a handgun in cocoa powder. Dessert, but make it violent.
🎧 Listen: Mob Queens
“Mob stories are usually all about the guys. But not this one.” Mob Queens, hosted by Jessica Bendinger and Michael Seligman, tells the story of Anna Genovese, the wife of mobster Vito Genovese and a businesswoman who helped grow New York City’s gay bars and drag clubs in the 20th century, including the 181 Bar dubbed “the homosexual Copacabana.” Bendinger and Seligman first started their research into Genovese’s life after Seligman found a stash of letters from drag queens in the 1950s and early ‘60s. The podcast is positioned as a part-mob story, part-queer history.
⌛ Longread: The Night Tony Soprano Disappeared
On a high school trip to NYC, I saw James Gandolfini walking down the sidewalk in Times Square. I think he was acting in his Broadway show, Gods of Carnage, at the time. He was a giant, scowling, trudging along as New Yorkers do, and I said to my parents, “Look, it’s Tony Soprano!” For James Gandolfini, the inability of many people, my high-school self included, to separate the actor from the character bled into his own life, as documented by GQ’s Bret Martin.
“Ever since The Sopranos had debuted in 1999, turning Tony—anxiety-prone dad, New Jersey mobster, suburban seeker of meaning—into a millennial pop-culture icon, the character’s frustration, volatility, and anger had often been indistinguishable from those qualities of James Gandolfini, the actor who brought them to life. It was a punishing role, requiring not only vast amounts of nightly memorization and long days under hot lights, but also a daily descent into Tony’s psyche—at the best of times, a worrisome place to dwell; at the worst, ugly, violent, and sociopathic.”
Martin contrasts Gandolfini’s embodiment of Tony to the ease in which Edie Falco shed Carmela Soprano each time she stepped off the set. The article provides an insider’s glimpse behind the curtain of the television show that made these actors household names and became a cultural touchstone for so many.
⌛ Longread: A Tribute to Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano
Some of my favorite moments in The Sopranos are watching Carmela Soprano flit between the absurdity of being a mobster’s wife and doing mundane wifey tasks like lecturing her kids on taking care of their clothes or flipping through a homewares catalog. Made stronger by her French tips and sensible khaki shorts, the matriarch of the Soprano family is the Gorilla glue holding them together, and she’s played perfectly by Edie Falco. The New Yorker’s Lizzie Feidelson’s tribute to Carm highlights the character’s moral contradictions and Falco’s superb performance over the years. (I recently got a rather tragic set of quarantine bangs but the upside is that if I style them just right, I can really lean into this Carmela vibe.)
Runner-up: Lorraine Bracco Bought an Italian Villa, but She Can’t Escape “The Sopranos” Lorraine Bracco, who played Dr. Melfi, has a show on HGTV called “My Big Italian Adventure,” where she renovates a crumbling Sicilian villa.
“Bracco loves to curse, make inappropriate interjections, and scream “Ay-yi-yi-yi!” after a construction setback. She always seems a bit drunk, or at least drunk with enthusiasm.”
What a dream. I must watch this.
😲 Fun Fact: Gaga goes Gambino
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, has a cameo in The Sopranos from when she was 15 years old. In season 3 / episode 9, she plays “Girl at swimming pool #2” who is smoking and drinking with AJ Soprano and like everything else she does, she crushes it. *screams*
Here are some other newsletters that I read and love that you should subscribe to as well:
For pop-culture musings and deep dives into trending stories on TV, movies, and Hollywood: Hung Up by Hunter Harris
For media gossip, insider knowledge, and comprehensive TikTok roundups: Deez Links by Delia Kai
For incisive commentary on entertainment: Dirt by Kyle Chayka, Daisy Alioto, and other guest writers.