Book Excerpt: Sopranos Psychology

In his new book, The Psychology of the Sopranos: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America's Favorite Gangster Family, Glen Gabbard draws on his experiences as a psychoanalyst, and his Sopranos trivia knowledge, to explore how the show dramatically showcases the psychological conflicts that all humans face.

In the first chapter, Gabbard looks at how the character of Dr. Jennifer Melfi interacts with her patient Tony Soprano, while making comparisons to films that used psychoanalysts to offer a different view of a character. Read the excerpt below.

Chapter One: Bada Being and Nothingness

The door to a psychiatrist's office opens into the waiting room. A 40-something female psychiatrist hobbles out on crutches, and the young female patient looks at the cast on her leg with concern. She follows her doctor into the office and sits across from her. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, the patient asks her therapist,"Should you really be here?"

The psychiatrist responds, "I feel better when I'm working." The patient pauses for a moment and asks, "You mean, like Dr. Melfi?"

This real-life account of a therapy session reflects how David Chase's spectacularly successful Home Box Office (HBO) series, The Sopranos, has entered into our collective consciousness. Here the patient is referring to Dr. Jennifer Melfi's rapid return to her consulting room after being raped in a parking garage. In another therapy session, a thousand miles away from the first, a female analyst is upbraided by her patient for walking down an isolated stairwell to a parking garage. Her angry patient shouts at her, "That's where Dr. Melfi was raped!"

The Sopranos has received unprecedented praise from media critics. Writing in the Nation, Ellen Willis referred to it as "the richest and most compelling piece of television — no, of popular culture — that I've encountered in the past twenty years." Television critic Nancy Franklin notes, "There has certainly never been anything like it on TV, and on network TV there never could be anything like it — it goes out on a limb that doesn't even exist at the networks." In its third season the show received the highest ratings in HBO's history for a nonsporting event. Perhaps most telling, in 2001, huge numbers of Academy Awards watchers switched over in the middle of the annual event to get their weekly Sunday evening fix of The Sopranos.

Indeed, in towns and cities all over the United States and Europe, there is a "Sopranos effect" on the evening of a new episode. Retail establishments are suddenly deserted. Restaurant patrons make a hasty exit. Social invitations are declined. Answering machines pick up phone calls so not a single word of dialogue is missed.

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