James Gandolfini, a.k.a. "Tony Soprano," rest in peace.
The news broke yesterday afternoon Gandolfini had died suddenly while on vacation with his son in Rome.
For anyone who watched The Sopranos with even a little regularity, Gandolfini's turn as the Northern Jersey mob boss/husband/father/psychoanalysis patient was simply unforgettable.
To say The Sopranos impacted and reshaped modern American television would be a huge understatement.
Actor James Gandolfini (1961-2013)
Show writers and producers like Matthew Weiner worked early on The Sopranos (Weiner was a Soprano's co-writer and producer), which proved to be a training ground for other great show creators. Weiner went on to write and produce Mad Men and The Sopranos in the meantime, and demonstrated that great quality, long-form series content could be created that treated adult viewers as just that, adults.
I think this paved the way for a whole litany of "adult" content (and not the obscene kind), where real-world situations could be played out as such.
HBO largely did that paving, later allowing for shows like The Wire and Deadwood (all favorites of mine).
But we also witnessed an explosion of episodic cable shows that moved beyond the confines of HBO (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Justified... the list goes on), all which continued to extend the boundaries of what we'd known with conventional broadcast and cable TV, and also which lured many actors, writers and directors from the big screen back to the small box.
After The Sopranos, it was suddenly cool to work in TV again -- the stakes were raised by the risks mitigated, because you didn't have to make $150 million the first weekend to pay for the budget.
The risk could be extended over a season, and you had an opportunity to gain a loyal audience interested in thoughtful, intelligent content.
I'll miss James Gandolfini's continued work in film and TV (although there are still a few projects he starred in which haven't yet been released), but I'll always be thankful for his role as Tony Soprano.
He helped unleash millions of viewers from a torrent of bad sitcoms and thoughtless network dramas, and that unleashing couldn't have come soon enough.
The New Yorker editor David Remnick remembers James Gandolfini here.
May he rest in peace, but may he be spared an eternal spinning of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" (the song that mysteriously closed out the final Sopranos episode in 2007).