- The Sopranos revolutionized television by introducing flawed, morally questionable characters that viewers still empathized with.
- Many acclaimed shows, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, owe their success to The Sopranos’ groundbreaking formula.
- The Sopranos’ impact extends beyond mob sagas, influencing diverse genres like comedy (It’s Always Sunny) and animation (BoJack Horseman) to explore complex characters and morally ambiguous storylines.
The Sopranos, the iconic HBO show that premiered in 1999, significantly altered the course of television and served as a major influence on numerous subsequent shows. Introducing audiences to the antihero archetype through James Gandolfini’s morally questionable, yet captivating mob boss protagonist Tony Soprano, The Sopranos brought depth and complexity to the small screen. Tony’s intricacy and appeal demonstrated that shows could utilize characters with serious flaws, while still garnering viewer investment and empathy. This paradigm shift paved the way for other series to follow suit with their own takes on conflicted leads, fluctuating between good intentions and unlawful actions.
Without the advent of the Soprano family, many of today’s most acclaimed programs may not have come to fruition or achieved mainstream popularity. From the tortured souls of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, traces of The Sopranos‘ groundbreaking formula can be found across contemporary television. Its bold vision fundamentally transformed programming, storytelling, and the antihero protagonist, setting new standards for dramatic television through its layered characters and narratives. The Sopranos has become a staple of prestige drama, shaping countless stories and characters. By centering the show around a complex mob boss and his family, the series paved the way for future shows to also take risks with flawed central characters.
10. House (2004-2012)
Both series feature an abrasive, but genius protagonist
Dr. House owes a debt to Tony Soprano’s pioneering bad behavior. Though saving lives rather than taking them, House follows The Sopranos‘ footsteps by centering on an ingenious, but deeply flawed protagonist. Not only is House a complete jerk, he abuses prescription drugs, deceives patients, and breaks rules while working to solve cases. Without Tony Soprano establishing precedents of an appealing antihero who does wrong, but compels attention, Dr. House likely would not have become so popular. The Sopranos empowered House M.D. to build a hit show around an abrasive genius lead. Centering on this unlikable, but fascinating character, it proved successful thanks to the archetype The Sopranos introduced.
9. Ozark (2017-2022)
Both series feature conflicts between crime and domestic duties
Like The Sopranos, Ozark centers itself around criminality, family tribulation, and the perpetual tension between morality and immorality. Rather than glorifying illegal acts like earlier crime sagas, Ozark echoes the moral ambiguity of Tony Soprano’s twisted, but compelling conflicts between mob and domestic life. In its study of how criminality corrodes and sustains family, Ozark trades The Sopranos’ New Jersey mob for money laundering in Missouri, but keeps the blueprint of sympathetic characters trapped in cycles of violence and compromise. While Marty Byrde resembles Tony Soprano as an antihero protagonist, what Ozark truly owes to The Sopranos is its gutsiness in building high drama around the ethical descent into villainy.
8. The Shield (2002-2008)
Both series feature daring narratives
Distinct in premise, but kindred in its plunge into murky morality, The Shield draws significant inspiration from The Sopranos. Both inhabit lawless worlds beneath a surface that is longing for order. Policeman Vic Mackey mirrors The Sopranos‘ Tony Soprano, a troubling, threatening, and at times repulsive figure bound by loyalty. The Shield shifts from the standard “cop drama” with Vic’s shocking act in the first episode, echoing The Sopranos‘ pioneering of a space where antiheroes dominate, and their justifications dissected. The Shield bravely challenges crime drama norms, embracing The Sopranos‘ established pattern in a daring narrative.
7. BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)
Both series offer insight in the leads’ inner turmoil
Unlike the mob sagas before it, The Sopranos injected prestige drama with emotional risk in centering on flawed figures the audience feels compelled to care for. BoJack Horseman borrows this template by building intrigue around a washed-up horse actor wallowing in vices and exploitative behaviors which damage the friends and lovers around him. BoJack Horseman stretches the paradigm of the antihero further by scoring a surprisingly thoughtful comedy around depression and ethical failure. Though an animated comedy, BoJack Horseman shares The Sopranos‘ gutsiness in anchoring itself to an abrasive lead while offering insight into the inner turmoil behind his callous actions.
6. Killing Eve (2018-2022)
Both series explore moral complexities
Departing from the morally upright archetype, Killing Eve draws from The Sopranos‘ playbook by meticulously unraveling the ethical fabric of its protagonist, Eve Polastri. Originally cast as the heroic cop, Eve undergoes a transformation into ambiguity, revealing unexpected tendencies for deception and violence. Channeling The Sopranos‘ fusion of domestic drama and moral complexities, Killing Eve takes this blueprint and ingeniously applies it to the police procedural genre. With Eve’s gradual corruption and the show’s exploration of her rationalizations, Killing Eve mirrors The Sopranos‘ groundbreaking examination of characters grappling with their latent darkness, evolving into a character-driven thriller that dissects the interplay between personal motivations and institutional obligations.
5. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2005-)
Both series celebrate unlikable characters
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
While outrageous in its humor, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia shares The Sopranos’ blueprint for wringing thematically rich storytelling out of morally questionable characters. Tracking The Gang’s increasingly audacious and absurd schemes cements It’s Always Sunny’s debt to The Sopranos, proving that unlikable characters can anchor resonant satire. Where The Sopranos features dramatic depth of criminality and family tensions, It’s Always Sunny locates surprising insight within depraved slapstick. While The Gang has their nice moments, both bypass sanitization, embedding their characters in toxic situations which somehow speak meaningfully about human contradictions. It’s Always Sunny embraces The Sopranos’ pioneered risk of building comedy on top of awful behavior.
4. Fleabag (2016-2019)
Both series bring a depth to the protagonist’s inner life
The Sopranos proved that television’s greatest protagonists often emerge from darkness, and like Tony Soprano, Fleabag introduces a brazen, egocentric lead who is not sorry for who she is. But rather than chronicling violence, Fleabag echoes The Sopranos in pairing its crass protagonist’s inner life with depth, dimension, and catharsis. Fleabag is a vulgar, but vulnerable guide to the personal psychology many shows overlook. Breaking the fourth wall so that the audience becomes the confidante, Fleabag borrows The Sopranos’ intimate character excavation and insight and shows that prickly exteriors can heighten acceptance and garner more empathy. Tony opened the door for leads who don’t placate norms and Fleabag proudly walks through it.
3. The Wire (2002-2008)
Both series ask hard questions rather than providing easy answers
The Wire owes its existence to The Sopranos, forging a path beyond conventional storytelling by embracing the latter’s pioneering approach to morally complex characters. While The Sopranos humanized criminals, episodes of The Wire extend this narrative format to chronicle systemic ethical challenges that engulf entire cities. Drawing inspiration from The Sopranos’ textured portrayal of inner lives without justification, The Wire navigates Baltimore’s institutional corruption. Mirroring its predecessor’s commitment to nuanced storytelling, The Wire paints a portrait of compromised characters within shared environmental burdens, reinforcing the depth that The Sopranos demonstrated in avoiding oversimplification. By shedding light on both institutional shortcomings and individual agency, The Wire aptly follows The Sopranos‘ blueprint.
2. Mad Men (2007-2015)
Both series highlight major imperfections
The Sopranos proved that gripping television emerges when probing the fullest dimensions of characters once considered “unlikable.” Mad Men follows this tradition not through murderous mobsters, but advertising director Don Draper’s ethical contradictions between his magnetic public persona and privately destructive habits. Echoing Tony Soprano’s duality reconciling a doting family man with a ruthless mafioso, Don’s inner turmoil and compartmentalization reveal deeper cultural insight about identity’s malleability. Beyond simply being a conflicted male protagonist, Mad Men borrows The Sopranos’ portrait of 1960s domesticity, where desires and prescribed societal roles breed discontent. By embracing imperfections, both expose profound, inconvenient truths.
1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Both series explore the notion of ignoring darkness can obscure the remaining bits of light
Breaking Bad owes its narrative brilliance to The Sopranos, following a blueprint that unlocks television’s dramatic potential through the descent into ethical ambiguity. Walter White’s transformation from teacher to drug lord mirrors The Sopranos‘ approach to exploring the profound consequences of moral deterioration. Like Tony, Walt succumbs to ego-driven aspirations, blurring once-sacrosanct moral boundaries and engaging through incremental contradictions. While The Sopranos grounds crime drama in the domestic sphere, Breaking Bad provocatively widens the lens to encompass the broader impact of the drug trade. Both series immerse characters in horrible situations that offer meaningful insights into human duality.