The Sopranos Revival (Remember The End of The End of History?) with Peter Coviello & Xine Yao

Apple Podcasts


Resonate Recordings

James Wolcott calls HBO’s The Sopranos “the gong of decline,” following a convention of associating the show with some kind of epochal transition: the end of American empire, the failure of the neoliberal consensus, the retreat of The Long Peace, the end of “the end of history,” as Francis Fukuyama had defined it.

But while the reception of the show is consistently burdened with millennialist anticipation of crisis, it was for HBO the pivotal product signaling the network’s ascendence to prime purveyor of “prestige TV.” It was a critical and commercial darling which has been perpetually imitated, both by HBO and rival networks.

It found a whole new audience in 2020, when HBOMax launched in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. New subscribers flocked to one of the lynchpins of HBO’s back catalog, followed by a fresh wave of reception reckoning with The Sopranos legacy.

In this episode of The American Vandal Podcast, two scholars who binged the show during this renaissance phase discuss it with host, Matt Seybold.

Peter Coviello is Professor & Department Chair at University of Illinois, Chicago. He is the author of five books, most recently Vineland Reread (Columbia UP, 2021), Make Yourselves Gods (U Chicago P, 2019), and Long Players (Penguin, 2018). In 2021, he wrote “Anthony & Carmela Get Vaccinated” for Los Angeles Review of Books. [Twitter: @pcoviell]

Xine Yao is Lecturer in American Literature at University College London, as well as co-director of QUCL, co-host of the PhDivas podcast, and a BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinker. Their first book is Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth Century America (Duke UP, 2021), which has earned numerous accolades. Additional work can be found in American Quarterly, J19, and elsewhere. [Twitter: @XineYaoPhD]

Thanks again to The Snarlin’ Yarns for providing this season’s theme song, “Don’t Go Fishing.”

Episode Bibliography:

Daniel Adleman, “The Late Oedipal Genre, Thantagonists, & Secondary Televisuality” (Canadian Review of American Studies, Winter 2021)

Amari Baraka, The LeRoi Jones/Amari Baraka Reader, Ed. William J. Harris (Thunder’s Mouth, 1991)

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Duke UP, 2011)

Josef Breuer & Sigmund Freud, Studies in Hysteria (1895)

Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power (Stanford UP, 1997)

Anne Cohen, “20 Years After The Sopranos Premiere, Its Most Controversial Episode Feels More Urgent Than Ever” (Refinery29, 1.10.2019)

Peter Coviello, “Anthony & Carmela Get Vaccinated” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 4.19.2021)

Peter Coviello, Vineland Reread (Columbia UP, 2021)

Jeffrey R. Di Leo, “Therapy For The Novel” (American Book Review, Fall 2017)

Nancy Franklin, “Shock Treatment” (The New Yorker, 12.16.2002)

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History & The Last Man (Free Press, 1992)

Michael Hann, “How ‘Sexposition’ Fleshes Out The Story” (The Guardian, 3.11.2012)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)

Merri Lisa Johnson, “Gangster Feminism: The Feminist Cultural Work of HBO’s The Sopranos (Summer 2007)

Annie Leibovitz & Sam Kashner, “The Family Hour: An Oral History of The Sopranos (Vanity Fair, 3.15.2012)

Bob Ingle & Sandy McClure, The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption (Macmillan, 2008)

Michael Kimmage, In History’s Grip: Philip Roth’s Newark Trilogy (Stanford UP, 2012)

Christopher Kocela, “Unmade Men: The Sopranos After Whiteness” (Postmodern Culture, January 2005)

Brett Martin, Difficult Men: Behind The Scenes of a Creative Revolution (Penguin, 2013)

David Mastracci, “‘The Sopranos’ Offered The Best Insight Into Italian-American Life” (Vice, 6.10.2017)

Myles McNutt, “‘The Night Lands’ & Sexposition” (Cultural Learnings, 4.8.2012)

James A. Miller, Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers (Macmillan, 2021)

Philip Roth, American Pastoral (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Philip Roth, “Goodbye, Columbus” (Paris Review, 1959)

Lisa Siraganian, Modernism & The Meaning of Corporate Persons (Oxford UP, 2021)

Lisa Siraganian, “Against Theory, now with bots!: On the Persistent Fallacy of Intentionless Speech” (Nonsite, August 2021)

Lisa Siraganian, “Distributing Agency Everywhere: TV Critiques Postcritique” (Amerikastudien, Winter 2019)

Matt Z. Seitz & Alan Sepinwell, The Sopranos Sessions (Abrams, 2019)

Olivia Stowell, “Adriana’s Abs & The Return of Low-Rise Jeans” (Avidly, 7.8.2021)

Michael Szalay, “Streaming Enthusiasm & The Industrious Family Drama” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 6.23.2021)

Michael Szalay, “Melodrama & Narrative Stagnation in Quality TV” (Theory & Event, April 2019)

Michael Szalay, “The Real Home of Capitalism’: The AOL Time Warner Merger & Capital Flight” in Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)

Michael Szalay, “The Author as Executive Producer” in Neoliberalism & Contemporary Literary Culture (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017)

Michael Szalay & Catherine Fisk, “Story Work: Non-Proprietary Autonomy & Contemporary Television Writing” (Television & New Media, 2017)

Michael Szalay, “Pimps & Pied Pipers: Quality Television in the Age of its Direct Delivery” (Journal of American Studies, November 2015)

Michael Szalay, “HBO’s Flexible Gold” (Representations, Spring 2014)

Michael Szalay, “The Writer as Producer” in Mad Men, Mad World (Duke UP, 2013)

Michael Szalay, “The Incorporation Artist” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 7.10.2012)

Mark Twain, “The Stupendous Procession” (1901) in Fables of Man (U California P, 1972)

James Walcott, “Bada Bing’s Big Bang: How The Sopranos Defined White America’s Cultural Shift” (Vanity Fair, 11.30.2018)

Alissa Wilkinson, “The Sopranos vs. The End of History” (Vox, 10.2.2021)

Komozi Woodard, “It’s Nation Time in NewArk: Amiri Baraka & the Black Power Experiment in Newark, New Jersey” in Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside of the South, 1940-1980 (PalgraveMacmillan, 2003)

Xine Yao, Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America (Duke UP, 2021)

—, “Bada Bing!” (Wikipedia, accessed 9.28.2022)