The Sopranos is one of the most influential television shows in history – if not the most influential. It helped launch the cable boom of the 2000s, it helped popularize the concept of the television anti-hero (many shows throughout the 2000s would feature an antihero to some capacity), and of course, it took full advantage of the popularity of the gangster genre.
The Sopranos wasn’t the first gangster show, and it certainly won’t be the last. Luckily, TV history is filled with quality gangster programs – some of which preceded The Sopranos, many of which came after. These are the best of the best.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-14)
Boardwalk Empire is easily one of the most popular post-Sopranos gangster shows. Also distributed by HBO, Boardwalk Empire is a semi-biographical drama about criminal Nucky Johnson. Renamed Nucky Thompson for the show, Johnson was a crooked businessman and crime boss who ran Atlantic City through much of the ’10s, ’20s, and ’30s.
At the time, Atlantic City was famous for not adhering to the laws of Prohibition. Boardwalk Empire is his story, and it’s led by the always-commendable Steve Buscemi.
Just like Boardwalk Empire, Lilyhammer starred a Sopranos alum in Steven Van Zandt. A Norwegian-American series, Lilyhammer concerns a Mafioso named Frank Tagliano who goes into the Witness Protection Program after testifying against a Mafia boss.
He is then relocated to Lillehammer, Norway, where he quickly resorts to his old ways. Van Zandt proves a commanding lead, being just as watchable and entertaining as he was as Silvio Dante.
Peaky Blinders (2013-)
One of the most popular gangster shows of the 2010s, Peaky Blinders is a BBC production with some high octane action and fantastic production values. The series is very loosely based on the criminal exploits of the real Peaky Blinders, an urban street gang who operated around the West Midlands of England from the late 1890s to the 1910s.
Many notable performers have also appeared on the show, including Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Adrien Brody, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hardy, and Anya Taylor-Joy.
Crime Story (1986-88)
Predating The Sopranos by over ten years, Crime Story ran on NBC for two seasons and 44 episodes between 1986 to 1988. The story simultaneously follows a mobster named Ray Luca and the police lieutenant who is hot on his trails.
The series was quite revolutionary in its time, as it told a continuous, serialized story over the course of its entire season. At the time, most TV shows were told in an episodic format, with episodes holding a very strenuous connection in terms of overarching plot and character development.
The Deuce (2017-19)
Another stellar HBO production, The Deuce ran for three seasons in the late 2010s, garnering critical acclaim for its acting and production values. Its story concerns the so-called “Golden Age of Porn”, which coincides with its legalization and increasing popularity throughout the 1970s.
But, like The Sopranos, this is merely an excuse to explore deeper themes more connected with the American identity, including government corruption, the drug epidemic, and increasing crime rates of the late ’70s.
Godfather Of Harlem (2019-)
Premiering in September of 2019, Godfather of Harlem can be found over on Epix. Like Boardwalk Empire, Godfather of Harlem concerns one particular real-life criminal – Harlem’s Bumpy Johnson, who ruled the city as a drug trafficker throughout much of the 1960s.
The story largely concerns Bumpy’s rise to power, his battles with the Genovese crime family and his alliance with civil rights activist Malcolm X. Forest Whitaker proves commanding as Bumpy Johnson, as does Giancarlo Esposito as politician Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Serving as one of Netflix’s biggest hits, Narcos proved a commanding drama for three seasons and thirty episodes. The first two seasons followed the life and criminal exploits of drug lord and terrorist Pablo Escobar.
Wagner Moura was simply magnetic as Escobar, receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. The third and final season concerns the DEA’s battles with the Cali Cartel. Luckily, that didn’t prove the end of Narcos entirely, as a spin-off titled Narcos: Mexico was launched in 2018.
Airing on CBS between 1987 and 1990, Wiseguy was another crime drama that utilized serialized story arcs. The series stars Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova, an undercover FBI agent who is tasked with infiltrating criminal organizations.
Jonathan Banks of Breaking Bad fame appears as Vinnie’s boss, Frank McPike. Aside from its serialized storylines, Wiseguy is also notable for its guest stars, including stints from Kevin Spacey and Jerry Lewis as recurring characters.
Public Morals (2015)
Public Morals belongs to Edward Burns. He wrote and directed every single episode, served as an executive producer (alongside Steven Spielberg), and starred as Officer Terry Muldoon.
The story concerns Muldoon and the other officers of the Public Morals Division of the NYPD, including Michael Rapaport as Terry’s partner, Charlie Bullman. The cast is excellent, the production values and period detail magnificent, and the story’s focus on Irish Americans proves both unique and interesting.
Magic City (2012-13)
Magic City didn’t last long, appearing for just two seasons and sixteen episodes on Starz. Set in 1959, the story concerns a hotel owner who goes into business with the Miami Jewish mob. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays hotel owner Ike Evans, and Danny Huston stars opposite as Jewish-American mob boss Ben The Butcher.
Like Public Morals, the show gets a lot of mileage out of its extravagant period details, and Huston proves utterly commanding as Ben The Butcher. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after its second season.