Thursday, June 20, 2013

RIP, Tony Soprano

TigerBlog was on an elevator last night when a man he'd never seen before got on and announced that Tony Soprano had died.

The news was stunning.

Tony Soprano was really actor James Gandolfini, who died yesterday in Italy at the age of 51, apparently of a heart attack.

Until "Homeland" came along, TB's belief was that "The Sopranos" was the best TV show of all time, or at least the best drama.

In fact, it's TB's belief that "The Sopranos," which currently airs at 8 every weeknight on one of the HBO channels, is the best show on TV right now.

TB has seen every episode a million times, both when they aired originally and now are being repeated on HBO and when they ran in syndication on A&E, with all of the cursing edited out in somewhat creative ways.

TB was watching one of the episodes the other day, the one from Season 5 where Tony's cousin Tony Blundetto is released from prison. It ends with Tony Soprano as he stares at himself in the mirror, wearing his boxers and no shirt.

It's a fairly stunning moment, one that captures the grittiness of the show - and a character who in many ways changed television - perfectly.

Gandolfini was chosen for the part of Tony over two others, Steven Van Zandt, who would play Silvio Dante (and who is sort of famous for something else) and Michael Rispoli, who played Jackie Aprile, the boss whose death from cancer opened the door for Tony.

"The Sopranos" was a unquestionable great show, largely because it wasn't just about mob violence.

No, this was a show about everyday life, with all of the same issues of family, paying bills, going to therapy and ultimately getting ahead and achieving all the trappings of success. And then, just when it seemed like they were just another North Jersey family, the realities of what they did for a living would come crashing back down, leaving the viewers to wonder what it said about their own values that they liked this guy so much.

It was a great ensemble cast, with great writing, great storylines and great risk-taking, such as when it went out on a limb by killing off one of its best characters after Season 2.

Mostly, it was about challenging those who watched it to figure out why they were okay with everything that was going on, which on a weekly basis included extortion, drug-use, infidelity, murder and all of it. Those subjects weren't there to be gratuitous but instead to serve as a reminder of who we were really dealing with here each week and what they were really all about.

It was brilliant, creative and original. And it never would have worked without Gandolfini.

His presence all by itself elevated the show. And it was precisely because of his physical stature - huge, not exactly classically handsome - that he was so much more powerful on the screen and so much more believable as a mob boss.

And that's why the scene where he looks at himself in the mirror is so telling. He is so physically imperfect, and yet at the same time he loves what he says looking back at him.

Its the core of what the whole show is about. He loves what's looking back at him - and nobody in his life is going to be able to say anything to him to convince him otherwise. He is completely flawed as a human being but doesn't see himself that way. He indulges his every whim and takes what he wants, not caring who gets hurt along the way, even if it's someone he loves, or is supposed to love.

Gandolfini's performance was epic, so much so that it made it harder for fans of the show to envision him in any other role.

It also blurred the line between actor and character, so much so that it felt as if Tony Soprano had died yesterday. TB, by the way, doesn't buy into the idea that Tony is killed off at the end of the series, when the screen fades to make it seem like the cable went out.

In fact it was James Gandolfini who died yesterday, a man, not a character, one who died at just 51. If it was a heart attack, it's possible that the giant stature that he saw in the mirror in that episode of "The Sopranos" ultimately is what cut his life so sadly short.

Gandolfini was a New Jersey guy, one who grew up in Bergen County and attended Rutgers, from which he graduated in 1983.

TigerBlog spent some time Googling to see if there was any connection between Gandolfini and Princeton University. He didn't find any.

He has no memory of a time when Princeton University is mentioned during the series, let alone Princeton Athletics. Meadow, Tony's daughter, attends Columbia, but even through there there is no reference to Princeton that TB remembers.

But hey, maybe Meadow made a road trip down to Central Jersey for a Princeton-Columbia football game, and maybe Tony went as well.

Or maybe the real James Gandolfini, while he was a Rutgers student, came to watch Princeton-Rutgers basketball or some other event.

It's all speculation now anyway, after Gandolfini's death yesterday.

It was actually two deaths, that of an actor and the character his performance made so real that it's almost impossible not to think of Tony Soprano as a real person.

TigerBlog has seen very few TV characters where that was the case. Actually, he can't think of any others off the top of his head.

TigerBlog was shocked to find out James Gandolfini was dead.

Shocked, and very much saddened.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

I have just learned that TigerBlog is now a Senior Associate Director of Athletics...Congratulations and thanks for all you do for Tiger athletics.