Sopranos fans rejoice! The popularity of HBO’s groundbreaking program is still going strong even 20 years after its release.
Proof of this can be found at the Cinema Arts Centre – where approximately 100 people attended a discussion of Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz’s book “The Sopranos Sessions.” The book itself is an extensive breakdown of all 86 episodes of The Sopranos and transcripts of extensive interviews with series creator/showrunner David Chase. This recent publication is the follow-up to Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Seitz’s “TV (The Book”), where the two writers/critics used a calculated point system to rank the 100 greatest American scripted television programs.
Cheers, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad were all tied for the first place spot. The book opens with a dialogue between the two writers debating which series should be placed at number one. They eventually agreed to put The Simpsons at the top spot with The Sopranos right behind it at number two.
The event was organized by Long Island LitFest and included a one-hour discussion with Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Seitz followed by a book signing and complimentary wine and treats.
The one-hour discussion flew by as Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Seitz were such passionate speakers, engaging the entire crowd and prompting numerous questions. The discussion could have gone on for three hours without growing stale. The topics of discussion ranged from Mr. Chase’s love for European art cinema, which influenced the ambiguous ending that still sparks debate 12 years later. They also discussed how difficult it was for James Gandolfini to wear Tony Soprano’s skin day after day. Additionally they noted how The Sopranos’ influence is still present today, using Natasha Lyonne’s Netflix series Russian Doll as an example.
While waiting to speak with Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Seitz, I struck up a conversation with Rob and Elyse Galvan. Mr. Galvan attended CUNY Brooklyn around the same time as Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccala on the series, and threw some shade at me and Long Island Art Scene’s Editor-in-Chief, Jaime Zahl, about our rival alma mater CUNY Queens College.
As the night wrapped up, I sat down with the authors for a Q&A:
Mr. Patterson: So you had talked about how much of a film lover David Chase was when meeting him. Well, one Letterboxd user actually counted 175 different movies that get referenced throughout the course of the series. So just out of curiosity do you have a favorite movie reference within The Sopranos?
Mr. Seitz: Well my favorite without a doubt is when Carmela has the film club and they show Citizen Kane and Adriana goes “So it was the sled, huh? He should have told somebody.”
Mr. Sepinwall: Laughs That’s great and for sort of pathos when he’s watching The Public Enemy and he cries over that but can’t cry over the death of his mother.
Mr. Patterson: It’s funny, you mention Public Enemy since there’s another reference in season one when Uncle Junior throws a pie in the face of his Goomah.
Mr. Sepinwall: Yes as a substitute for the grapefruit!
Note: Other patrons greeted Seitz at this point so the remainder of the interview is with Sepinwall
Mr. Patterson: So do you think James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano is the greatest performance in television history?
Mr. Sepinwall: Yes! Like, I used to think you could do some kind of Mount Rushmore of TV drama where it’s like him, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Ian McShane, etc. and then I watched the show again and no Jim gets his own mound! That’s how much better he is than everybody else.
Mr. Patterson: Do you have a favorite episode of the series?
Mr. Sepinwall: Favorite episode….probably “College.” That’s the show that made The Sopranos The Sopranos. It’s kind of the most pure distillation of what the series is about. Even though “Pine Barrens” is more fun to watch.
Mr. Patterson: I don’t know if you’ve seen Atlanta, but there’s an episode similar to Pine Barrens. It’s the one where Paper Boy is lost in the woods.
Mr. Sepinwall: You know it didn’t occur to me while watching it since Atlanta always feels like its own thing even when it’s clearly riffing on other stuff but now that you say it of course it’s like Pine Barrens!
Mr. Patterson: Do I even need to ask least favorite episode? It’s Columbus Day right?
Mr. Sepinwall: Obviously it’s Christopher! Even Chase couldn’t quite defend it when we talked to him about it.
Mr. Patterson: I’m sure you talk about it in the book, but I am curious as to what went wrong with the episode.
Mr. Sepinwall: Well there are a few episodes about anti-defamation, but this is the only one that’s all about anti-defamation. But the other problem with Christopher is that it was written as a Paulie Walnuts episode because it was Paulie in the early seasons, who was really hung up about anti-defamation, but Tony Sirico had back surgery at the start of the season and that’s why they had Paulie in jail for half the year – so they could shoot all of his scenes at once. So they had to rewrite that episode to make it about Silvio who A. That’s not part of his history and B. As much as I love Steve Van Zandt I don’t think you want to be building an entire episode around Silvio. So that’s why it doesn’t work.
Mr. Patterson: I was browsing through “TV (The Book)” and you highlighted that episode and Vito in New Hampshire as the weak points of the show.
Mr. Sepinwall: I sort of gained a greater appreciation for Vito in NH with this recent rewatch. It’s still not my favorite story but I appreciate it a lot more now.
Mr. Patterson: I guess for me it just doesn’t work because they spend so much time on it only for Vito to go back to Jersey and quickly get killed off.
Mr. Sepinwall: But they kill him off in such a way… literally Phil comes out of a closet to kill him! It’s like he’s trying so bad to escape who and what he is and it gets him killed in the end.
Mr. Patterson: The other question I have is kind of a broad TV question. I know when Twin Peaks got cancelled after its second season it kind of became a cautionary tale about ambitious storytelling within television. So I wanted to know what exactly changed in the few years between Twin Peaks getting axed and The Sopranos premiering.
Mr. Sepinwall: Well [David] Chase is a much more down to earth storyteller than David Lynch. Chase had been down in the salt-mines making things like Rockford Files and Northern Exposure. He actually knew how to make a TV show. David Lynch and Mark Frost are very candid about how they didn’t think Twin Peaks was going to come back for a second season and how they didn’t know what to do when it did come back and how they both wandered off in the middle of its second season. So it was all these different things that went wrong. Chase knew what he was doing; he laid its foundation, and knew how to keep the machine going once it came back. So even though he kind of hated television he knew how to make television.
End of interview
“The Sopranos Sessions” is available now for purchase on Amazon and book retailers. To keep up with other Long Island LitFest events visit longislandlitfest.com and for future events/screenings at Cinema Arts Centre visit cinemaartscentre.org