HBO’s The Sopranos changed television forever when its pilot first aired on January 10, 1999. The iconic drama about Tony Soprano’s struggle to balance life in the mob with his duties as a family man instantly struck a nerve with audiences and became an overnight sensation.
The Sopranos is both a gripping drama with moments of nerve-shredding suspense and shocking violence and a hysterically funny comedy with witty dialogue and darkly funny storylines. In addition to the principal cast, the show’s ensemble is chock full of intriguing side characters who make the show both scarier and funnier than it would otherwise be.
Funny: Little Carmine
Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr. is the son of the New York family’s acting boss, and thus heir to the throne. The only problem is he’s not all there mentally, to put things mildly.
Every scene with “Little Carmine” is a ridiculous linguistic adventure in which he casually and confidently misuses words and phrases, and creates new ones that don’t exist. His greatest hits include “We’re at the precipice of an enormous crossroad,” “[He’s] very allegorical,” and “We’re in a stagmire!”
Scary: Richie Aprile
Before Joe Pantoliano joined the cast in Season 3 as the evil Ralph Cifaretto, David Proval’s Richie Aprile was seen as the most odious villain in The Sopranos. Fresh out of prison, Richie goes to shake down his old friend Beansie for a cut of his thriving pizza business. When Beansie resists, Richie beats him up, and later runs him over with his car, paralyzing him for life.
Richie was ultimately killed off in surprising fashion early in the series, but his character’s impression as one of the most dangerous of them all is a lasting one.
Funny: Charmaine Bucco
Artie Bucco, Tony’s childhood friend, is the head chef at his own restaurant, Vesuvio’s. His wife Charmaine is the lead hostess, who consistently busts her husband’s chops to hilarious effect. Her banter with Artie is a consistent source of comic relief in a series that’s full of heavier, more dramatic moments.
When Artie criticizes her for dressing too suggestively, she replies sassily, “Something’s got to keep the customers coming back, and it’s not going to be your ‘mooshada’ raviolis lately.”
Scary: Feech LaManna
Another old Soprano family soldier recently released from prison, Feech LaManna is one loose cannon. Tony agrees to put him back in action so long as he doesn’t overstep his bounds. LaManna agrees but quickly violates these terms when he viciously breaks a landscaper’s arm over a territorial dispute that had been settled while Feech was serving his time.
Tony didn’t have the heart to whack Feech, so instead he set him up with a truck full of stolen TVs in his garage and got him sent back to prison, where he’d be less of an imposition.
Funny: Bobby Baccalieri
Bobby “Bacala” is a made man, despite never having committed a single murder. He doesn’t pop that cherry until late into the show’s final season. Most of Bobby’s duties throughout the series are domestic, most importantly, caring for the aging boss, Uncle Junior.
When he is called upon to help Tony find Christopher and Paulie in the famous “Pine Barrens” episode, his choice of wardrobe is enough to make even a hardened soul like Tony crack up laughing.
Scary: Mustang Sally
Mustang Sally is a lowly street criminal who only appears in one episode of The Sopranos. Despite his brief tenure, he makes his presence felt in the worst way. When Vito Spatafore’s brother intervenes in an argument he’s having with his girlfriend, Mustang Sally beats him nearly to death with a golf club in broad daylight.
The scene is extremely disturbing and among the most graphic of all of the brutally violent scenes in Sopranos history. He’s whacked in retaliation later in the episode by Bobby Bacala, Sr. in an equally bloody fight scene.
Funny: Furio Gunta
Furio is brought over from the old country by the Soprano crew, and he proves a valuable asset. Furio is a very dangerous man, but his European charm makes him one of the more affable side characters in the show. His learned adaptation to American culture is often played for laughs as well, including subtle differences in speech patterns that come off as awkwardly humorous.
Most notably, when he goes to intimidate a couple of youngsters looking to climb the mafia ladder, he randomly decides to shake them down, telling them, “Give me one thousand dollars.”
Scary: Benny Fazio
Benny is one of the less-talked-about characters on The Sopranos, but he’s nonetheless a menacing presence throughout the series. As an associate, Benny carries out hits, drives getaway cars, and executes the random shakedown here and there. As a hitman, though, he strikes with startling precision and efficiency, often appearing out of nowhere and gone before we realize who he is.
He’s also a small man with a giant temper. When Artie hints at his extramarital affair in front of his wife at Vesuvio’s restaurant, Benny follows him into the kitchen and shoves his hand into a boiling pot of tomato sauce.
Funny: Tony Blundetto
Played by the great Steve Buscemi, Tony Blundetto is Tony Soprano’s cousin who served 10 years in prison and is released in Season 5. His story arc is ultimately a tragic one, but as a character, Tony B is written as a habitual jokester whose impersonations and one-liners are a constant source of amusement.
On occasion, he would overdo it, especially around the particularly sensitive Christopher, who didn’t find his jokes to be all that funny. Tony, Paulie, and the rest of the crew, however, seemed, for the most part, to appreciate his sense of humor.
Scary: Livia Soprano
Ironically, perhaps the scariest character in the series is Tony’s diabolically abusive mother, Livia. As the series begins, she’s losing her faculties and requires constant care and attention. Still, she intentionally sabotages every effort Tony makes to help her, and when a dispute arises between Tony and Uncle Junior, she goes as far as to advise Junior to murder her own son.
When she dies of natural causes in the premiere of Season 3, Tony tells his therapist that he’s “glad she’s dead,” and that when she was alive, he “wished she’d die.”