Criticism is love... and it helps to realize that!
The Sopranos Creator keeps it real
Hi all, Ari here. Thanks for being a subscriber. Here’s my Friday post for subscribers only.
Some art is amazing in its time, and then it fades.
Other art lasts, and even feels deeper and strangely more resonant over time.
For many, the hit mob show The Sopranos is enduring art. The New York Times reports on a “resurgence”: where the number of people watching it during the pandemic tripled, and spin-offs from podcasts to books to a prequel are finding audiences hungry for more Sopranos. Why? Many view the show as one of the most interesting and complex portraits of American life on television.
The issues are broader than the topics—it’s not ‘just’ about the mob. Tony Soprano is a difficult father who is the product of his own difficult parents. One of television’s most reviled characters, and probably the true villain of the first half of The Sopranos’ run, is his mother, Livia. (Here are some examples).
Where does a character like that come from?
Sopranos creator David Chaser told me it’s based on his mom! How about that?
He says authentic, real material is the best to draw on, but it also has to be interesting. And when I asked him about feedback and criticism of his work, he said something simple and profound about how he approaches it:
“All of the criticism is a form of love—just like my family.”
We all face criticism and sometimes struggle with it. That seems like such an open way to absorb it.
As a creator, he may be thinking more of criticism of his art, which reflects a “love” or “interest” because otherwise people wouldn’t watch and respond in the first place. But he clearly think it applies more broadly—and he’s had years to find ways to process or cope with his family’s approach as well.
There’s also the process by which Chase creates. He invokes some experiences he’s had, which may make his story ring true, while adding all kinds of fantastical stuff that he certainly did not personally live, like mob violence.
“I don’t remember people prizing my opinion at the dinner table, but it’s constant talk… and I guess Italians... there’s something operatic about it… you’ll get all of this mail from Italian-Americans saying ‘that show was a disgrace and my family wasn’t like that.’”
It’s striking that people watched the show and then objected to the idea that it portrayed their family—or “all” of any kind of family—and yet maybe that’s also how it struck a chord. Maybe the people who wrote in would appreciate knowing Chase thought through their criticism—maybe they’d even love it.
P.S. Is there a show that captures your family? Tell me in the comments.
P.P.S Here’s my full, unedited interview with Chase - longer than what aired on MSNBC, and complete with some earnest moments because he is a blunt, straight shooter, as we touch on near the very end!
The dynamics of every family is so different. Criticism can be taken in the way it was delivered.. Growing up in 60s and being a teen in the 70s my parents were old school. I feared the wrath of my dad if I did anything wrong, so I stayed out of trouble. But I did take them being strict as a part of their love for me. The criticism was always from the heart, and not from being cruel. They taught me to be a good and honest person, and for that I will be forever grateful. As for a show that captures my family, so many combinations of several shows, that it's hard to pinpoint just one. Thanks Ari, this was really good topic for this week. 🎼🎹🎤😊👍
Very good newsletter as always, Ari. I love that HBO TV series, The Sopranos. Yes indeed, criticism is love…I didn’t see it like that before but now I realize that criticism makes one stronger and pause for a moment😃
Cheers, Ari and enjoy your weekend😃