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The Sopranos is The Simpsons

From Scott McLemee’s column today, citing a scholar who recently published a book-length study of The Sopranos:

“In this revised form,” writes Polan, “the job front is a complicated site lorded over by capricious and all-powerful bosses; the sons are slackers who would prefer to get in trouble or watch television than succeed at school; the daughter is a liberal and intellectually ambitious child who is dismayed by her father’s déclassé way of life and political incorrectness but who deep down loves him and looks for moments of conciliation; the wife is a homemaker who often searches for something meaningful to her existence and frequently tries to bring cultural or moral enrichment into the home; the bar is a male sanctuary; and there is an overall tone of postmodern fascination with citation and a general sense of today’s life as lived out in an immersion in popular culture and with behaviors frequently modeled on that culture.”

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June 10, 2009 - Posted by | television

19 Comments

  1. Is this a special Easter egg post, or is my browser just screwed up today?

    Comment by jms | June 10, 2009

  2. Aren’t all of these factors are (occasionally with some surface and relatively trivial variations like switching the sex of the children) the same for a huge number of shows?

    Comment by burritoboy | June 10, 2009

  3. Everything looks normal to me.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 10, 2009

  4. It disappeared for me too. I never made it past the first season of “The Sopranos.”

    Comment by Craig | June 10, 2009

  5. Aren’t all of these factors are (occasionally with some surface and relatively trivial variations like switching the sex of the children) the same for a huge number of shows?

    Yes. There’s a reason why The Simpsons has the dumb dad, the hapless housewife, the problem-child son, the do-gooder daughter, etc. – because these are all well-established, well-worn sitcom archetypes the show was riffing on at the time on its introduction.

    Comment by stras jones | June 11, 2009

  6. There are other archetypes, however, and it seems noteworthy that The Sopranos chose to use the exact same archetypes as The Simpsons. And I’m not sure that a fascination with cultural references is a stock trope in all sitcoms ever.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 11, 2009

  7. It’s true about the frequent cultural references in the more distant past, but that’s pretty standard by now, so it’s not something that particularly distinguishes the Simpsons and Sopranos into an exclusive set.

    Comment by burritoboy | June 11, 2009

  8. How standard was it in 1999? I’m not trying to say that these two shows are the only ones that share this property, only that it’s plausible that the parallels are so close that it could’ve been intentional.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 11, 2009

  9. There are other archetypes, however, and it seems noteworthy that The Sopranos chose to use the exact same archetypes as The Simpsons.

    There are other archetypes, but those ones are really, really common, to the point where they were cliche long before The Simpsons came along. It seems far less likely that The Sopranos was deliberately aping The Simpsons so much as they were both drawing from the same well.

    Comment by stras jones | June 11, 2009

  10. I finished the first season of The Sopranos and am working my way through the second. I’ve enjoyed it so far, but I don’t think it can compete with The Wire. I’m amazed at how cruel everyone in the Soprano family is, and I look forward (in some sense) to seeing how the kids develop over the seasons.

    Comment by Currence | June 11, 2009

  11. I watched The Sopranos after The Wire, too, and the whole time I was thinking, “Man, I wish I’d done the reverse.”

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 11, 2009

  12. Can someone think of another TV family that matches up so neatly to the template Polan describes? I’m running through my admittedly thin library and coming up short.

    Comment by Wrongshore | June 11, 2009

  13. Thank you, Wrongshore. I, too, would like to hear of the vast number of exactly symmetrical families that makes my endorsement of this blockquote — written, I will point out, by a scholar of popular culture — so transparently stupid.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 11, 2009

  14. written, I will point out, by a scholar of popular culture

    Oh, well then! I take it all back: Matt Groening invented the concept of the dumb sitcom dad.

    Comment by stras jones | June 11, 2009

  15. Goalpost-mover.

    Comment by Wrongshore | June 11, 2009

  16. The goalpost remains where it is — granted that both draw on stock sitcom characters, what previous shows have had the precise combination of stock characters that The Simpsons and The Sopranos appear to share for the primary nuclear family? If there are so many that I’m stupid to find the parallel at all remarkable, surely they can be named, right?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 11, 2009

  17. All in the Family, for one, though there’s not much about the workplace in that show. Michael Stivic isn’t really a slacker, but Archie repeatedly accuses him of being one.

    Comment by burritoboy | June 11, 2009

  18. Donna Reed Show thru Cosby?
    To hit the real stereotype you add the spoiled baby sister.
    Then you can fit Bonanza into the mold.
    How many family models are there?

    Comment by bob mcmanus | June 11, 2009

  19. The Munsters! Except Marilyn was a niece, not a daughter.

    Comment by jms | June 11, 2009


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