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TV Show: The Sopranos
Actor: James Gandolfini

To love Tony Soprano, boss of a New Jersey crime family on HBO’s The Sopranos, takes a certain degree of denial. Just ask his wife, Carmella, who he cheats on at every opportunity. Or his daughter, Meadow—he sneaks off from a trip visiting colleges with her to strangle a snitch. Tony is a thief, a compulsive gambler and a manipulator of the highest order, but the pathos James Gandolfini brought to the role of a capo dei capi seeing a psychiatrist for his panic attacks made it all but impossible not to root for him as he dodged the feds and family turmoil to remain on top. Tony displayed an existential angst, once brought to tears by the death of a prized racehorse and plagued by surreal dreams that suggested the meaninglessness he sensed in all the murdering, plundering and screwing that filled his days. Throughout six seasons, Carmella insists, “He’s a good man.” The audience and the mobster’s wife know different, but the thing that makes The Sopranos so compelling is that, in another life, he could have been.

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