If You Like The Sopranos…
by Leonard Pierce
Reviewed by Jared Scott Stroup
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The Sopranos attracted a lot of attention when it premiered. At first it was treated as television, but, as academic eyes gravitated towards it, it very quickly became synonymous with art. The literary approach by series creator David Chase and his writers offered plenty of room for analysis, and before long, the essays came flooding in. The eighty hours of television the series provided gave fans and scholars a lot to chew on.
The Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group recently published If You Like The Sopranos… by Leonard Pierce, a book that strips away the analytical writing and instead focuses on the roots and influence of the beloved HBO series. The implicit goal is to expose fans of the show to similar works, as well as broaden the scope of the viewers’ understanding of the medium and genre in question. In this case, the genre is, of course, crime drama, and, due to the cinematic nature of The Sopranos, the medium is both television and movies.
With The Sopranos as its hub, it’s essentially a book of recommendations with a singular focal point. It starts before the days of movies and then chronologically unfolds to incorporate the various factors that led up to the success of The Sopranos. Pierce covers a wide range of material: from the history of Catholicism and American immigration, to the rise of organized crime, the tradition of storytelling, the influence of the media, and so on. He elaborates most on the establishment and evolution of the crime genre in cinema, marking Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas as the respective Old and New Testaments to The Sopranos. This topic spills over onto the small screen, as the development of crime drama television shows carried the torch from their cinematic forefathers, eventually handing it to David Chase and company.
In keeping with the chronological structure, the book continues past The Sopranos and into the television shows and movies that are, in various ways, indebted to it. By the book’s end, you get a clear sense of where The Sopranos falls in relation to its family tree. All the necessary branches of this particular tree are discussed; however, the book mostly plays as an introduction to these subjects. Covering so many topics and titles in such a short book (less than 200 pages) makes for brief overviews instead of thorough exploration, so it suffers from being a bit too fleeting in its content. However, Pierce makes up for it by justifying its connection to The Sopranos in a way that enriches the show—for those who hadn’t already been privy to this information.
Pierce is abundantly aware that fans of the show are the ones who are going to be interested in this book, the title notwithstanding; he also makes this clear in the introduction. This makes his prose feel like he’s talking with you, as opposed to writing to you, since he has an audience of presumably like-minded individuals in mind. That’s also part of what makes it so remedial: most fans of the show will likely already be aware of other things that are like it. However, even the most astute admirer of The Sopranos will find many new movies and connections to seek by the end of this book.
The Limelight Edition is now available from Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
Jared Scott Stroup is a Film Studies Major at Eastern Michigan University. He lives, works, and studies in the Detroit area, where he’s involved in theatre and stand-up comedy.
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