Though almost any artifact more than three years old is subject to widespread cultural amnesia, people still seem to remember The Sopranos—not only as the show that changed all the rules for how television worked (swearing, violence, sex, complex characters, actual darkness), but as one of the most dramatically riveting, ingeniously written, brilliantly acted, smart, funny, and moral programs ever on TV.
That means a lot of people will be excited (and plenty of others wary) about the news that was announced this morning by Deadline that Sopranos creator David Chase has sold a screenplay, co-written with veteran screenwriter Lawrence Konner, for a film entitled The Many Saints of Newark, which seems likely to serve as a feature-length Sopranos prequel.
Set in 1967, at the time of the Newark riots, Saints is assumed to feature younger versions of many of the older characters who were either on or alluded to in the series, most notably Tony Soprano's family members—his father Johnny (played in flashbacks by Joseph Siravo), his Uncle Junior (played on the show by Dominic Chianese), and the most fascinating character of all, his mother Livia (played on the show by the late Nancy Marchand)—but also Paulie, Silvio, Ralph Sifforetto, Tony Blundetto, Johnny Sack, Hesh, maybe even Feech. You never know.
You also never know how the film's take on the Newark riots—one of the most notorious, protracted, and horrible uprisings of racial violence in late-20th century America—will align with the larger cultural appetite for depictions of such uprisings that don't focus primarily on the conditions in late 1960s American cities that made them inevitable. It's hard to imagine, for example, how the Columbus Day episode from season four, in which the show's Italian mafia thugs go to war with Native Americans over the true nature and iconographic value of Christopher Columbus, would go over today, when complexity and ambiguity appear to be intolerable traits for works of art to contain.
Since The Sopranos ended with a controversial (but excellent) final episode in 2007, Chase has completed only one project, the underrated rock band movie Not Fade Away (2012).