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12 April 2018updated 03 Aug 2021 11:50am

Who knew that The Sopranos’s most persuasive fan would be… Bob Geldof?

On the 20th anniversary edition of Front Row, Geldof’s ever-building uproar of enthusiasm for the New Jersey gangster saga was sensational.

By Antonia Quirke

“Bob, as briefly as you can. Why The Sopranos?” During the 20th anniversary edition of Front Row (7.15pm, 6 April) Bob Geldof nominated The Sopranos as the most significant art work of the last two decades. There were other people making other suggestions but I forget who or what they were (Lionel Shriver was possibly keen on something. The Book of Mormon also got a mention). But so sensational was Geldof’s ever-building uproar of enthusiasm for the New Jersey gangster saga he compelled total assent.

The Sopranos’s 86 episodes were, Geldof began, “a social, artistic and industrial explosion… the greatest pop culture masterpiece of its day… about a man genetically wired to be a wolf, but fears he is a pussycat.” One of Geldof’s (very many) points was that the character of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini, RIP) got “deeper, way beyond the writer’s intent”. Which in some ways is true. As Gandolfini waded into that character, allowing his light tenor voice in the pilot episode to thicken, he may have seemed everything to the show, but he wasn’t – not in quite the same way as, say, Mark Rylance was to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, which you suspect would have fallen apart without his presence.

The real genius of The Sopranos was this: the very first scene (in 1999) seemed to have understood entirely what the very last scene (in 2007) might be. It always knew where it was going. The opposite of a soap opera. “It was the beginning of the novelisation of television!” continued Geldof. “It set up the 21st century for the dystopia coming our way!” Occasionally, you could sense presenter John Wilson making little begging gestures urging Geldof to perhaps not blow his wad, as he kept on talking and taking things further up the scale of complexity, referencing Balzac and Flaubert (not foolish comparisons at all) until anybody listening practically needed a seatbelt.

I also liked that Geldof scoffed at other suggestions. He sneered. Not like a pantomime villain, but like someone with zero interest in being diplomatic – which is just another word for mealy-mouthed, really. It seems you really do want Bob Geldof in your tent pissing out. Who knew… 

Front Row 20th Anniversary
BBC Radio 4

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This article appears in the 11 Apr 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war