”The Sopranos” has become so defining in gangster fiction it’s easy to forget that the HBO series began as a revision of the mob genre. Creator David Chase provided no picturesque ”Godfather” glamour in the shabby backroom of the Bada-Bing, and very little honor among Tony Soprano’s thieves. Instead, he gave us Prozac, Freudian slips, a murderously unsentimental Italian mother, and comic self-consciousness about pop mythology — who can forget that car horn tooting the ”Godfather” theme song?
The only thing about this crew that was larger than life? Tony’s ever-expanding belly.
This season, Chase has stepped up his non-moralistic ”they’re just human” approach. In the first seven episodes, he has been depicting the male gangster psyche through a prism of weakness, insecurity, and fear of fading masculinity. He’s giving us a sort of anatomy of the school bully. All the guys are being depleted in the power department this year — Tony by Junior’s gunshot, Junior by Alzheimer’s, Johnny Sack by a jail sentence, Silvio by asthma, Bobby by an infantilizing Janice, and Christopher, once again, by Hollywood and drugs.