David Chase's HBO dramatic series The Sopranos has moved well beyond niche audience and cult following and landed squarely in the category of Broader Cultural Phenomenon. Newsweeklies find that Tony's (James Gandolfini's) mug can goose circulation; multiple popular guides—including one by TV Guide and another by The New York Times—help latecomers get up to speed with the story four seasons into the game; DVD and VHS compilations of the series sell like crazy. And last week, a story about whether actors from the series would or would not be allowed to march in a Columbus Day parade made front-page news. (Not all Italian Americans, it turns out, are giddy about Tony.)
A slew of recent books seek to cash in on the zeitgeist: The Psychology of the Sopranos, Tony Soprano's America: The Criminal Side of the American Dream, even The Sopranos Family Cookbook. It was therefore more with amusement than shock that I beheld mock-up copies of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano: An Unauthorized Look Into the Souls of TV's Top Mob Boss and His Family (Relevant Books) at this year's Christian Booksellers Association convention.
Nor, once I received the book, was I terribly surprised. Author and Baptist minister Chris Seay spends the introduction and much of the rest of the book explaining why it's not only tolerable for a mature Christian to watch the show, it's positively a good idea. The Sopranos, Seay explains, is "greater than The Godfather," and has managed to hold "the imagination of the world at gunpoint." It may, in Seay's telling, be the best drama of all time!
Seay's book is interesting if for no other reason than that it proves the very Sicilian adage that everybody's got an angle. Seay's particular interest is not in principle ...1