Like many sufferers of the 2020 condition, I took this wild gap in regularly scheduled life programming to explore some of the movie and television classics I’d been putting off for years. The mob genre has never been a priority for me – gratuitous violence isn’t really my thing, nor is the hyper-masculine, often misogynistic fanfare surrounding its centrepieces – which is why The Sopranos eluded me for so long. Once I started it back in June though, I binged the entire series in under a month. During that time, I fell in love with its humour, surrealistic tendencies and nuanced character development – especially of the many women of the series, from mob wife Carmela Soprano (played by Edie Falco) to therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Its characters give great one-liners, too, which is something that has been immortalized by @oocsopranos, a new Twitter account that has racked up 57,000 fans with its out of context Sopranos quotes spanning the series’ six seasons.
The account is the brain child of Maya, a college senior who would prefer to keep her identity private (you know how witness protection goes), save for the fact that she is a Black woman – something that often comes as a surprise to the show’s legion of fans. “Iconic television is not just for white men, even if they are usually the subject matter,” she tells me. Here, Maya shares her insights on Tony Soprano, nails the female perspective on the canon HBO show and shares her 5 favourite scenes.
When did you first watch The Sopranos?
I started watching The Sopranos for the first time the summer after my freshman year of high school. Two of my freshman year teachers accidentally spoiled the ending for me, actually.
I started and stopped a few times because I was watching it on third-party sites, but my senior year of high school, I discovered it was available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. Once I was able to buckle down and stream it seamlessly from start to finish, I really began to love and appreciate it. Running the Sopranos Out of Context account has made the show a larger part of my life than I ever anticipated.
How do you track the quotes? Do you just have a really good memory or are you rewatching?
I go episode by episode, taking screen grabs and adding the quotes on my computer. If I’m in a rut, I’ll tweet and ask what episodes or scenes people want me to post and do those.
What made you start the account?
I was in a rough place emotionally and I’d hurt my knee, so I couldn’t go to school or work for a few weeks. I decided to start watching The Sopranos again and I realized how funny it was. I looked to see if there was already a Sopranos Out of Context account on Twitter, and there wasn’t, so I made one.
Are you surprised by how quickly it picked up?
Surprised is an understatement! Back in March, I was just shy of 3,000 followers. The fact that over 56,000 people now follow the account now is beyond me.
I watched the show for the first time during lockdown and I’ve noticed a lot of people are doing the same. There’s a lot of talk about how nostalgic we’ve become since the beginning of lockdown, but The Sopranos is also pretty timeless…
I’ve noticed that too! I’ve been getting lots of tweets and DMs from people saying they’re rewatching, watching for the first time, or they’re quarantined with someone who is watching for the first time. I think people find comfort in familiarity during times of uncertainty, I know I do.
The Sopranos is timeless, for sure. I will admit, it is a little harder to digest now than when I was watching for the first time at fifteen. My understandings of race, gender, etcetera have evolved in the past six years, and so has the public’s. The manner in which those things are handled in the show is unfortunate, but reflective of the subculture being represented and exaggerated for television.
You posted about people being surprised that you are a woman and for me it was definitely the first ultra masculine show I’d watched in ages.
When I started the account, I wanted it to be anonymous. I didn’t think my identity was important or relevant to the content I was putting out. More recently, I’ve gotten tired of people assuming I am a white man. Iconic television is not just for white men, even if they are usually the subject matter!
Do you have any thoughts on the female perspective on the show?
I have so many thoughts. First of them being, there’s a Madonna-whore dichotomy on The Sopranos. I think Janice points it out, actually. There are women on the show who are there for the men’s sexual gratification, the strippers at The Bing and the goomars (mistresses), and there are women who serve the men in non-sexual ways, like Carmela and Dr. Melfi. The women in the former group get treated with little to no respect. The women in the latter group are respected because of their connection to the men, not because of their actual personhood. The line is blurred sometimes though, like when Tony found himself attracted to Dr. Melfi earlier on in the series.
I also found that the relationships between men characters and women characters are often transactional, especially Tony’s. Tony provides for Carmela and their kids. In return, Carmela has the luxury and responsibility of being a stay-at-home wife and puts up with Tony’s lifestyle. When they have conflict, Tony rectifies the situation by buying Carmela lavish gifts, which she gladly accepts.
Being a fan of the show and running a Twitter account about it allows me to see many peoples’ opinions about it. One thing in particular that I’ve noticed is the disparities in how the women characters are perceived by fans versus men characters. Most criticisms of the women characters are coded in misogyny, or they are held to a higher moral ground than the men characters are. It’s wild that in a show about organized crime, people dislike the women characters because they’re ‘annoying.’
I personally was always driven to the female characters, especially Adriana and Dr. Melfi – who is your favourite character and why?
The women on the show are incredible and deserved better. Meadow and Carmela are my favourite characters. Meadow reminds me of myself, and her relationship with Tony sometimes reminds me of my relationship with my dad. Tony is very old school and Meadow is young and forward-thinking. They don’t often understand each other, but the love is there. Carmela is so dynamic over the course of the series. It’s fascinating to watch her navigate life as a mobster’s wife, a mother, and a human being. She also turns looks and has great one-liners.
Although they butt heads, Meadow and Carmela essentially have the same moral dilemma. They both want to do good things and be good people, but the lifestyle they live is a direct result of immorality. They struggle with that knowledge. The main difference is, Carmela chose to marry Tony and knew what she was getting into, while Meadow did not choose to be born in the mob lifestyle. I think Meadow is more honest with herself about how her dad’s mob involvement has shaped her life, and she resents Carmela for willingly getting involved with Tony and the mob.
What do you do when you’re not running the account?
I’m a rising college senior. I am majoring in business administration with a marketing concentration and minoring in television, radio and emerging media. I do digital marketing work for friends and family, and eventually would like to start an online community for Black girls and women who want to work in marketing and advertising.
I watch a lot of television and listen to a lot of podcasts and music. I love analyzing pop culture in the context of psychology and social issues, so I’m trying to find an outlet for that. I’m currently working on a show bible for a coming-of-age series I hope to write one day. I live in New York City and love just enjoying the city by myself, six feet away from others and with a mask on as of lately.
Do you have any plans to do anything else with the account?
I’ve been thinking of ways in which I can expand the account, but haven’t come up with anything particularly promising yet. I’m toying with the idea of merch, but I need to do more legal research first. This year has been tumultuous enough already, the last thing I need is a cease and desist from HBO and David Chase.
Nostalgia is a big thing for Millennials, but does it hit you the same way?
Nostalgia does hit me in a similar way. I grew up with a brother and sister who are ten and nine years older than me respectively, which undoubtedly played a role. I find myself nostalgic for shows, movies and music they actively enjoyed when they were preteens that I may have consumed passively because I was a kid and I was there, you know? Since those media are super accessible, I can actively enjoy them now that I’m older. My favourite books, shows, movies and music are all from the 90s/early 2000s, I just discovered or rediscovered them in my teens.
Does the conversation online and off there is about the ’90s/the early ’00s and the culture surrounding the show impact you in any way?
I like seeing people excitedly talking about things they enjoyed in their youth, but they aren’t conversations I engage in personally. I was born in 1999, so I don’t feel I have much to contribute. As a business major, an emerging media minor, and a person of marginalized identities, it is tiring to watch beloved shows and movies from that time period get prequels, sequels, reboots, etcetera. Profiting off nostalgia is an effortless cash grab. We are in a time where marginalized people are seeking meaningful representation. The resources being used to continue telling an old story could be invested in helping marginalized people tell our stories for the first time. From a sentimental standpoint, some shows and movies need to be left alone and reboots are hardly ever as good as their source material.
How does the account play into that?
I don’t feel a connection to the culture surrounding The Sopranos, really. I guess I missed out because of my age. Before it was rare that I found another younger woman who had watched The Sopranos. Running the account and seeing younger women, particularly younger Black and brown women, interact with it because they like the show has been comforting.
Maya’s favourite Sopranos lines
“It’s more like a hotel at Captain Teebs!” (S1E2, 46 Long)
One thing I love about The Sopranos is when we see Tony learn something from Dr. Melfi, and try to apply it later in the same episode. In this scene, he’s echoing earlier in the episode when Dr. Melfi compares a retirement home Tony is considering for his mother to Cap D’antibes, a peninsula off the southern coast of France, but he butchers it. He often complains about how useless he thinks therapy is, yet he continues to go. Tony truly does value his therapeutic relationship with Dr. Melfi.
“Death just shows the ultimate absurdity of life. Life is absurd.” (S2E7, D-Girl)
I think about this scene all the time. This took place right before AJ’s confirmation and I think it really captures teenage angst and existentialism.
“I like the one that says ‘some pulp’” (S3E7, Second Opinion)
This one makes me laugh every time because it’s so silly. The right choice is no pulp.
“Of all the girls in New Jersey you had to fuck this one?” (S4E7, Watching Too Much Television)
This might be my favourite scene in the entire series. Tony is driving home and hears “Oh Girl” by The Chi Lites on the radio. He starts crying because he remembers his ex-girlfriend Irina is now dating Assemblyman Zellman, who Tony does business with. Tony drives to Irina’s house and beats Zellman up with a belt while the song continues to play. He delivers this line and the episode ends. It’s one of the few times we see Tony be vulnerable in private and he almost immediately turns to rage. It’s very iconic.
“Is it light where you are yet?” (S5E11, The Test Dream)
The end scene of Carmela and Tony on the phone in their respective beds, while Tony looks out at Central Park, is beautifully shot. It’s such a contrast from the rest of the episode, which was really weird. The delivery of “Is it light where you are yet?” over a black screen is so beautiful and satisfying.
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