what does gen z make of the sopranos?

As the cult show turns 25, how are young people reacting to the classic mobster series?

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

As the cult show turns 25, how are young people reacting to the classic mobster series?

By Felicity Martin10 Jan 2024
5 mins read time
5 mins read time

Marone! Turns out The Sopranos has existed for an entire 25 years. In celebration of this milestone, HBO unveiled an official TikTok account for the crime drama series, featuring ‘Sopranos in :25’ – ultra-condensed recaps of all 86 episodes. “Finally, the Sopranos is watchable for Gen Z,” people eye-rolled online.

The mobster show might now be older than some Gen Zs themselves, having launched in 1999, but it’s been hot with young audiences for some time. Throughout lockdown, many people turned to the series for the first time, with younger discoverers delighted at their new mafia fix. Meanwhile, memes shared by the likes of ‘sopranos out of context’, run by a 24-year-old, have helped keep the show in the midst of internet culture. Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher, also spoke about being conscious of a growing young audience who kept tagging him in their Halloween costume Instagram pics.

Carmela Soprano (played by Edie Falco) and Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) have long been hailed as Gen Z style icons, with their crop tops and stacked jewellery, but this week a new aesthetic emerged for 2024. ‘Mob wife’ style guides on TikTok point to trench length furs, gold statement pieces, leopard print and big hair for that high-drama New Jersey look. “Clean girl aesthetic is out and mob wife glamour is in,” another creator claimed. While Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and the rest of the mobsters’ baggy shirts and tracksuit ‘fits are currently populating men’s wardrobes, with charity and thrift shops offering Bada Bing boy worthy looks.

Yet, with its instances of homophobia, racism and misogyny, you could wonder whether the show has aged poorly for younger audiences. Hannah, who is 24 and from Ireland, recently watched The Sopranos for the first time, and tells woo that she sees these tropes as details of characters who aren’t meant to be viewed as role models. “[The show] doesn’t shy away from difficult themes and doesn’t sugarcoat the subject matter, while still presenting these characters as regular humans with families, religions and traditions – not just criminals,” she says. “It also takes care to not glorify the roles they’re involved in, which I found impressive.” At the same time, she was surprised that “people have huge love for these flawed characters, which is maybe why I didn’t expect them to be so flawed as the show went on”.

So why has the show resonated so strongly with 25s and under? One suggestion is that the show contains themes that resonate with Gen Z’s emotional intelligence – one being the therapist’s couch as a way to transmit ideas. Hannah says that “the series being based around Tony speaking about his anxieties was a really interesting spin on what otherwise could’ve been a bog standard mafia portrayal, and I think that’s why it really struck a chord with my friends.” Then there’s Tony’s son AJ, whose existentialism is often described as being very Gen Z-like.

At the same time, there are late ‘90s and ‘00s references that younger audiences might scratch their heads at. Pre-paid calling cards, for example – which turn up in the plot due to a scam that the mobsters pull, as well as AJ asking his mum: “You still online?” when he wants to use the phone (anyone who remembers dial-up modems will know this pain). But outdated tech has rarely put people off watching things, not to mention that the show’s creator David Chase was born in 1945, so a lot of the show's references came straight from his generation (OK, boomer!) With the Y2K renaissance in full swing, too, it makes sense that viewers wouldn’t be put off by the aesthetics of CD-ROMs, fax machines and brick phones.

For Hannah, the show’s complex characterisation was particularly appealing. “I found myself shocked but also appreciative when really likeable characters would also be shown to do horrible things, to remind the viewer they’re flawed and in dangerous environments,” she says. “For example, when I began watching I loved Adriana and Christopher as a couple – I thought their love was beautiful and sweet, but as the show progressed it became clear that very few of the characters were capable of being truly dedicated or loving towards their partners.”

While The Sopranos’ tech might not be timeless, its themes of family, community, and life’s struggles are. “If there's anything Gen X, Y, and Z all share, it’s a feeling that as they came of age, society and the economic environment were stacked against them, that there were greater opportunities in the past and that they are narrowing and narrowing; that what worked before doesn't work anymore,” suggested one commenter on Reddit. Coupled with some seriously covetable fashion, meme-worthy moments and heartwarming storylines, and you can see why the show has been so enduring in the hearts of generations.