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Television Learned the Wrong Lessons From The Sopranos

THE SOPRANOS SESSIONS by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall.Abrams Press, 480pp., $30.00

Aside from a brief introduction by Laura Lippman, The Sopranos Sessions is written entirely by three men: Matt Zoller Seitz, Alan Sepinwall, and show creator David Chase. Similarly, if you click on the “critic reviews” section of The Sopranos’s page on Rotten Tomatoes, every single “top critic” listed is a man. The Sopranos Sessions is an excellent book, delving into all sorts of details and providing a rare opportunity to hear from Chase himself, who is shy of reporters. It even contains a “Eulogies” section, on the life and death of James Gandolfini, who played Tony and died at 51 in 2013. It’s an invaluable book to any fan, as was Martin’s Difficult Men and The Sopranos: A Family History (2001) by Allen Rucker. But when you put all those books together along with the general cultural debris surrounding the show, you get a very selective impression of what The Sopranos meant to Americans while it was airing—an impression dominated by antihero worship.

Of course, The Sopranos’s dissection of masculinity was innovative, even radical. But on the other hand, one might argue that The Sopranos simply did for television what Philip Roth did for fiction in the 1960s, and Martin Scorsese did for movies in the 1970s—made it human. And we do not remember the novels of Roth or the movies of Scorsese solely for their interest in the antihero. Instead, young writers and filmmakers look up to these men as pioneers of technique. The male psyche was rich material for Roth and John Updike and their peers, but those writers broke new ground because of the language they used to mine it.

There is plenty of great academic writing about The Sopranos,

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