Don't do it, David Chase
We all know how The Sopranos ended. Tony, sat with his family in a diner, sounds optimistic for the future despite looking mightily worried about a man stalking the room in a Members Only jacket. Tony’s last few moments in the show are then abruptly ended by a cut to black. Was he killed? Could that explain the devastating finale? Ultimately it’s up to the viewer to decide what they think happened in the end. However divisive – it definitely felt like the end. Until now, that is.
Last night, news broke that David Chase, creator, writer and showrunner of The Sopranos would be working on a spin-off prequel movie to the show titled The Many Saints of Newark. The film will be set during the “Newark riots in the ‘60s”, Deadline reports, and will include characters who appeared in the show, like Tony Soprano’s father Giovanni “Johnny Boy,” Soprano, his mother Livia and Tony’s uncle, Junior.
This isn’t the first time HBO has attempted to expand on the Sopranos universe, mind. Video game The Sopranos: Road to Respect was released in 2006 and interspersed existing storylines along with new characters. Few consider this canon. The Many Saints of Newark, however, will prove completely different. This will feature real characters, pick up on existing characters’ arcs and retroactively alter the canon of the show as a result.
Avid fans of the show will remember the flashback scenes with Johnny Boy, an abusive bully to whom Tony frequently referred in his therapy sessions with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. This relationship between father and son, more than any, is what should make Sopranos fans seriously nervous about this new prequel. In the show’s seven series we got a pretty well-rounded picture of how things panned out between them. Tony both revered and loathed his father. He’d call him a “real man”, his hero, his bully, a crook – everything. But the series has already told that story so well: probing into Tony’s past as and when necessary, providing pieces of context and largely giving explanations for why Tony was the man he was.
We both hated and loved Tony. He was an aggressive, complex and emotional human, but one that showed sides of redemption and one that flipped the discourse on what leading men on TV could be. They could be bad yet still considered intriguing. But this spin-off will change things. It’ll frame Tony and all of the crew in a new way, shoehorning in unnecessary pieces of information without the characters to be able to respond – and in a completely different time period.
It’s worth remembering, too, that none of those characters were very likeable. Tony’s mother Livia was the source of plenty of his internal anguish – but even flashbacks failed to show a different side to her. Why should we get excited about a new story about a set of characters that were tolerable at best, and wickedly painful to watch at their worst?
The idea’s saving grace is the fact that it is a David Chase piece of work and he’s been adamant that any piece of work he’d do would be something he truly believes in. “I’ve said it from the beginning: if I had a really good idea and I thought it could be really entertaining and it wouldn’t upset what was done, I might do it,” he told Deadline last year.
But judging from what we immediately know, and its potential to repurpose and reframe the show’s stellar legacy, perhaps that fade to black really was the perfect goodbye.