The Wisdom of The Sopranos

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsThe life of a mobster is no picnic. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola gave us a view of mobster life through the lens of the Machiavellian Corleone crime family in the Godfather trilogy (1972-1990). Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese provided another view through the lens of the notorious Lucchese crime family in Goodfellas (1990). But it was David Chase, who gave us the Italian-American family that lives next door — the Soprano family, headed by ruthless but likable Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) who juggles the demands of family life and organized crime.

For Chase, who had always been fascinated by the Mafia and especially films like William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931)  and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), one of the inspirations for the show was to apply his own family dynamic, specifically his relationship to his own mother, to mobster life. The Sopranos are partially based on a real-life New Jersey organized crime family when he was growing up. Most importantly, through the invention of Dr. Teresa Melfi and her sessions with Tony, Chase gives us a unique and penetrating perspective into the mind of a mob boss who is as tortured and conflicted as the family and business he oversees. Richard Plepler, co-president of HBO at the time, recalls Chase’s pitch to the producers: “Here’s the idea: 40-year-old guy, crossroads of his life, turmoil in his marriage, turmoil in his professional career, beginning to raise teenage kids in modern society — all the pressures of every man in his generation. The only difference is he’s the Mob boss of northern New Jersey. Oh, by the way, he’s seeing a shrink because he has one of the most pathological relationships with his mother.”

One of the most memorable aspects of this award-winning series (21 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes for 86 shows over 6 seasons from 1999 to 2007), is the gripping — and colorful — dialogue. In interviews, Chase has acknowledged the influence of American playwrights Arthur Miller and Tennesse Williams. Largely because of Chase’s brilliant writing and a stellar cast, the show has been recognized as one of the greatest television series of all time. In June 2013, the members of The Writers Guild of America recognized The Sopranos as the best written TV show of all time: “No show has been more responsible for TV’s storytelling renaissance.”

Here are some of the most memorable quotes from The Sopranos:

Dr. Melfi: (talking about Christopher) Do you think he’ll go to hell?
Tony: No. He’s not the type that deserves hell.
Dr. Melfi: Who do you think does?
Tony: The worst people. The twisted and demented psychos who kill people for pleasure, the cannibals, the degenerate bastards that molest and torture little kids. They kill babies. The Hitlers. The Pol Pots. Those are the even f**ks that deserve to die, not my nephew.
Dr. Melfi: What about you?
Tony: What? Hell? You been listening to me? No, for the same reasons. We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to hell. It’s war. Soldiers they kill other soldiers. We’re in a situation where everyone involved knows the stakes and if your gonna accept those stakes you gotta do certain things. It’s business. Soldiers. We follow codes, orders.

Tony: All due respect, you got no f**ing’ idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f**ing thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.

Tony: If you can quote the rules, then you can obey them.

Carmela: You know, Tony, it’s a multiple choice thing with you. ‘Cause I can’t tell if you’re old-fashioned, you’re paranoid, or just a f**king asshole.

Tony: The belt was [my father’s] favorite child development tool.

Tony: Is this a woman thing? You ask me how I’m feeling. I tell you how I’m feeling, and now you’re going to torture me with it.

Tony: You don’t shit where you eat. And you really don’t shit where I eat.

Tony: I won’t pay. I know too much about extortion.

Tony: What f**ing kind of human being am I, if my own mother wants me dead?

Tony: There’s an old Italian saying: you f**k up once, you lose two teeth.

Tony:  Those who want respect, give respect.

Tony: You know we’re the only country where the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in writing? Do you believe that? A bunch of f**ing spoiled brats. Where’s my happiness then?
Dr. Melfi: It’s the pursuit that’s guaranteed.
Tony: Yeah, always a f**ing loophole.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of the Godfather
The Best Shows on Television

For further reading: The Sopranos: The Book — The Complete Collector’s Edition by Brett Martin, Time (2007)
The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am by Richard Greene, Open Court (2004)
The Sopranos: The Vanity Fair Oral History by Graydon Carter, Sam Kashner, and Jim Kelly, Vanity Fair E-Book (June 12, 2012)


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