'The Sopranos' Ranks among Best in TV History, Says Pop-Culture Expert

Show made it okay to depict sympathetic outlaws on TV

Release Date: May 23, 2007 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The final fate of America's favorite mob boss remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: When the last episode of "The Sopranos" airs June 10, the show will go down in American television history as one of the all-time greats, according to University at Buffalo pop-culture expert Elayne Rapping.

"There's no doubt about it," says Rapping, a professor of American Studies and author of "Law and Justice as Seen on TV." "'The Sopranos' ranks with 'All in the Family' as one of the most innovative and influential TV shows in American culture."

According to Rapping, "The Sopranos" gave TV "permission" to show gangsters as sympathetic characters with whom the audience can identify. Prior to the series' debut on HBO, sympathetic portrayals of bad guys -- mobsters, rebels and other outlaws -- strictly were the purview of movies, Rapping points out.

"What you got with 'The Sopranos' was permission to sympathize with bad guys who a lot of us envy for what they get can away with," Rapping says. "I think that was the secret of the show's success; people fantasize about making the big kill and getting away with it."

Though really daring for TV, 'The Sopranos' still was much safer than movie portrayals of mobsters because at heart the Sopranos are a family the audience can identify with, Rapping explains.

"The Sopranos" came the closest to movie portrayals of sympathetic bad guys as TV genres allow, but the show's focus on family -- and the typical problems of a suburban family -- made it more palatable to a TV audience, and was a major reason for the show's success, Rapping says.

"'The Sopranos'" took its cue from Francis Ford Coppola's very original take on the genre in 'Godfather I and II.' Coppola inter-spliced family and 'business' -- and the contradictions between the two -- in a way never done," she adds.

"You can't talk about "The Sopranos" without referencing 'The Godfather' flicks. Gangster movies have been major movie staples forever and, unlike cop movies and TV shows, they often depict sympathetic portrayals of outlaws."

In the final analysis "The Sopranos" made mobsters and murders "no big deal," on TV, Rapping says. "The show will live on in its imitators on mainstream TV."

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