The series finale of The Sopranos unforgettably faded to black seven years ago today, on June 10, 2007. The show’s influence on pop culture is immeasurable. Creator David Chase heralded the dawn of the Golden Age of Television, and the late, great James Gandolfini — as gangster Tony Soprano, a man torn between two very different kinds of families — arguably ushered in the Golden Age of the TV Antihero.
Today, Tony has many more children than AJ and Meadow. We never know quite how to feel about these liminal characters crafted in Soprano’s image, each of whom comprises contradictory elements of good and evil. For what it’s worth, they’re not sure they like us, either.
Don Draper – Mad Men
Creator Matthew Weiner wrote the Mad Men pilot as a spec script back in 2000; it’s what landed him a job on the writing staff of The Sopranos during its last three seasons. Much like Tony, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is personally magnetic but morally bankrupt. The ad exec is a cipher for the materialism and alienation of his era, with a identity so fractured that he’s literally two men in one. (Rest in peace, Dick Whitman.)
Walter White – Breaking Bad
Tony Soprano and Walter White (Bryan Cranston), chemistry teacher cum meth cook extraordinaire, couldn’t be more different in demeanor, but what they share goes far deeper. White first turns to crime as a means of supporting his family after he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but ultimately morphs into a purely selfish villain, motivated by power and pride. In Soprano’s case, there’s hardly any character arc to speak of. Even his shrink, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), washes her hands of him as a patient when an academic paper reveals that talk therapy can actually reinforce sociopathic behavior. Tony has always been Heisenberg, and Heisenberg has always been Tony.
Nancy Botwin – Weeds
Mary-Louise Parker stars as Nancy Botwin, an upper-middle-class soccer mom who — after her husband’s untimely death — reinvents herself as a marijuana kingpin (queenpin?). Tony has nothing but contempt for drugs (besides his daily dose of Dr. Melfi-prescribed Prozac), but to be fair, Nancy’s own mind-altering substance of choice is iced coffee.
Nucky Thompson – Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire is the brainchild of another Sopranos alum, Terence Winter. In many ways, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) — a Prohibition-era gangster and politician — is simply Tony transported 80 years into the past and 100 miles south along the Garden State Parkway, from West Caldwell to Atlantic City.
Jackie Peyton – Nurse Jackie
All hail Edie Falco, who graduated to Nurse Jackie from her deservedly Emmy-winning performance as Tony’s long-suffering (and long-complicit) wife Carmela. Jackie occupies an ethical gray area of her very own, abusing prescription drugs and cheating on her husband while keeping up appearances as a skilled medical professional and a devoted wife and mother.
Dexter Morgan – Dexter
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is a forensic blood splatter analyst who himself toes the line between good and evil: he’s a serial killer who negotiates the darkness of his impulses by murdering only criminals. Tony has never been one to flinch at a little curb stomping, provided it’s reasonably justified.
Nicholas Brody – Homeland
One of the more interesting themes that developed in the latter seasons of The Sopranos is Tony and company’s fixation on homeland security, a real-world reflection of the panicked post-9/11 climate. These fears are echoed in the person of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a liberated prisoner of war who was secretly trained as a terrorist sleeper agent by his al-Qaeda captors. Brody is at once a hero and a menace.
Gregory House – House
Don’t forget: Tony (and his entire crew) could be legitimately hilarious, if not exactly politically correct. Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) is very funny too, when he isn’t being an insufferable Vicodin-abusing fuck. And especially when he is.
Vic Mackey – The Shield
If Tony is the criminal you find yourself improbably rooting for, Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his Strike Team are the cops whose flagrant corruption can make you want to puke. The striking similarities between the Shield antihero and Soprano never seemed more apparent than when Chiklis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2002 (Gandolfini had won in 2000 and 2001, and would win again in 2003).
Omar Little – The Wire
Michael K. Williams’ complex stick-up man (who, for one thing, was openly gay) is arguably the very best of the hundreds of memorable characters who emerged from five expansive seasons of The Wire. Like Tony’s adherence to traditional Mafia codes of honor and omerta, Omar faces the nihilism of Baltimore’s drug wars with a clear-cut morality. “A man got to have a code,” he says, explaining that he’d never harm a civilian who wasn’t “in the game.”