Towards the end of the long series of interviews Matt Zoller Seitz and I conducted with David Chase for our upcoming book (due next January) about The Sopranos, I reminded Chase of something he told me the morning after the series finale aired: that if he ever returned to the world he had so famously created, it would most likely be to tell a story set in the 1960s heyday of Johnny Boy and Uncle Junior Soprano.
Had, I asked, he thought about that idea in the decade since the show ended? Chase suggested that he had — very seriously, in fact — but then insisted he couldn’t talk more about it, in a tone of voice that’s universally showbiz for “the deal’s not signed yet.”
Today, the deal apparently got signed. As reported by Deadline, Chase has sold a screenplay for a prequel movie called The Many Saints of Newark, which he co-wrote with Sopranos alum Lawrence Konner. Per Deadline:
Some of the beloved characters from the series will appear in the film. I couldn’t get any more information about the plot, but the time period indicates there will be room for Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni “Johnny Boy,” the former captain of the Soprano crew (played in flashbacks by Joseph Siravo), and a younger version of his wife Livia (played indelibly in the show’s first season by Nancy Marchand), and Tony’s uncle Junior, played by Chianese.
Even before James Gandolfini’s death in 2013, a traditional sequel to the most influential TV drama of this century would have been extremely unlikely. Chase had a story, he told it, and he created an ending that he intended to be definitive, even though there are many interpretations of exactly what happened when the screen cut to black while Tony was enjoying some onion rings. The morning after the finale, Chase insisted the ambiguous presentation of the ending wasn’t designed to put a sequel in play, and implied that if he ever wanted to tell another story about Tony at this stage of his life, it would probably be something set in between earlier seasons of the show.
But on that day, and in many of our conversations since then, he always sounded much more enthusiastic about the Johnny Boy prequel idea. Not only is it an area the show had barely explored — only a handful of episodes (season one’s “Down Neck,” season three’s “Fortunate Son,” and season five’s “In Camelot,” most notably) featured scenes in the ’60s — but it’s the era when Chase himself came of age, and the setting for his first movie, the rock ‘n roll drama Not Fade Away, which featured Gandolfini in a supporting role. (Chase directed Not Fade Away but will, per Deadline, be helping to choose a director for this film.) The music, the clothes, the ethnic turmoil — this was the decade of the Newark riots and the white flight to the surrounding suburbs (like the one where Tony and Carmela would raise their kids) — have long held a powerful appeal, and the few glimpses we got of the younger Livia in particular suggested a ton of untapped potential.
The morning after the finale aired, he told me:
“I don’t think about [a movie] much. I never say never. An idea could pop into my head where I would go, ‘Wow, that would make a great movie,’ but I doubt it… I’m not being coy. If something appeared that really made a good Sopranos movie and you could invest in it and everybody else wanted to do it, I would do it. But I think we’ve kind of said it and done it.”
The Sopranos will always be The Sopranos. Tony’s story has been told, and nothing The Many Saints of Newark does alters that story, or our appreciation of it. But Tony’s story was, as he himself told Dr. Melfi in the series’ first episode, about the end of something. If Chase — who is as fiercely protective of the legacy of his show as any creator I’ve ever encountered — felt inspired enough a decade later to go back to the middle of This Thing Of Ours and dig deeper into the forces that created the world and people of that show, I trust the idea will be worth it. And if it doesn’t work out, we’ll always have “Pine Barrens.”
What does everybody else think? Is this the version of Sopranos you’d like to see come back, or would you rather not revisit even a much earlier glimpse of Family life?