While revisiting “The Sopranos,” it’s evident that mobster Tony Soprano and his complicit wife, Carmela Soprano, are surprisingly relatable parents. Tony, portrayed by the late remarkable actor James Gandolfini, is the volatile and capable mob boss of a notorious New Jersey crime family. The powerful don has no problem whacking anyone who crosses the gang or putting anyone in their place.
However, when it comes to his children, his daughter Meadow and son A.J., Tony is usually helpless and sometimes outwitted. The same can be said for Carmela, played by the terrific Edie Falco. When Meadow is about to be punished for a transgression, an uncertain Tony isn’t sure what to do and then decides to take her Discover card away for three weeks. Meadow tells her friend, and they both laugh how she got away with murder, so to speak.
After A.J.’s grades plummet – his report card is comprised of a C, three D’s and an F – Tony confides to a friend.
“The kid used to be happy-go-lucky – now he questions the universe,” he said to his pal, Big Pussy. “Like father, like son,” Pussy replies. When A.J. sinks into an academic abyss, his parents decide to send him to military school, which proves to be a colossal failure. The move is nixed after A.J. collapses while suffering a panic attack, just like his dad. His parents shrug their shoulders in disbelief.
Sometimes Tony is spot on, and other times he’s way off the mark, just like most parents. There is no doubt that parenting is the most difficult job, and stay-home parents deserve a pat on the back. There are myriad guide books on parenting, but they can only offer suggestions since there is no exact answer since children are as unique as fingerprints.
There are so many shows, sitcoms and dramas with dads who have all of the answers, starting with the perfectly named “Father Knows Best.” I don’t often know best. I don’t know anyone who does, but I try.
I was never a big fan of “The Cosby Show.” The program was crazy popular. “The Cosby Show” is one of three programs to top the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive years. “All in the Family” and “American Idol” are the other two .
But I will note that there were some positives. “The Cosby Show” proved that an all-Black cast could carry a show. “The Cosby Show” deserves credit for presenting a successful and stable Black family, which broke a stereotype. The program called attention to dyslexia, and one of its best episodes was about teen pregnancy.
However, there wasn’t enough conflict, and Cosby came across as a know-it-all. The character he portrayed is similar to the real-life Cosby, who pontificated about how Black comics should deliver comedy. Cosby was inexplicably hard on Eddie Murphy.
During a recent episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Murphy revealed to host Jerry Seinfeld that Cosby tried to dictate what Murphy could discuss onstage and why he should eliminate profanity from his act.
“He had a weird thing with me that he didn’t have with other comics,” Murphy said. “It was mean. He’d tell me not to talk about how much money I was making and that I should see his shows to learn from him. He wasn’t nice.”
Cosby, just like his TV character, was a control freak. Who knew how domineering Cosby was until he was tried and convicted for sexual assault?
There are a number of very TV parents. Tom Bosley’s Howard Cunningham from “Happy Days” was wise but sometimes out of step, unlike Cosby or Mike Brady from “The Brady Bunch.” I recently revisited “Happy Days” and witnessed a father who was at times confused but always compassionate.
A big thumbs up goes to Eric Allen Kramer, who portrayed Bob Duncan on “Good Luck Charlie.” Kramer played a clueless goofball with a big heart. Props goes to Julie Bowen’s Claire Dunphy, who was uptight, sarcastic but also charming and such a loving mother.
Susan St. James and Jane Curtin were excellent as single moms moving in together after their divorces throughout the run of the underrated “Kate & Allie.” The late Bonnie Franklin was wonderfully gritty as the divorced mother of two teenage daughters in “One Day at a Time.”
It’s not easy writing a fully developed, realistic sitcom or dramedy parent or children. What’s most annoying about sitcom kids is that many are ridiculously precocious. Sure, some children are gifted, but many are not so fortunate, but it’s all right.
And that takes us back to “The Sopranos.” Both Sopranos kids are refreshingly flawed. Meadow is an outstanding student, but she made her share of poor choices, boyfriends and drugs, like many children do. A.J. was a lousy student with a subpar work ethic who was used by friends. Growing up is difficult for kids, and it’s not easy witnessing your children morph.
One of my favorite scenes in “The Sopranos,” which is probably forgotten by most, is when A.J. decides to sell his drum set for cash so he can party in a Manhattan club. “But those drums were a gift from your father,” Carmela said.
Some of the best acting by Gandolfini and Falco is when they hardly utter a word. Both parents watch from a bedroom window with expressions of heartbreak only a mother or father would understand as A.J.’s drums are loaded into a stranger’s van. You can almost see the parents looking back to when the present was delivered and the times when their son enjoyed working on his percussive skills.
There are some tough, emotional scenes between Tony and A.J., but there are plenty of loving moments, such as when the pair were on their boat, the Stugots, on the Atlantic fishing or at A.J.’s football games when the burly dad cheers on his teenage son.
Tony and Carmela often didn’t make the right decision, embarrassed their children (it was so painful watching Carmela’s misinterpretation of “Billy Budd” in front of Meadow’s college roommates) and were exasperated. What parent couldn’t relate with the iconic New Jersey couple?