Big Daddy: The Progeny of Tony Soprano.
In 1999, HBO premiered a new show about the mafia. It featured a pudgy actor no one had heard of, cuh-razy sex and violence, symbolism everywhere, and men in velveteen tracksuits. It was an immediate hit. I remember my mother wanting to watch The Sopranos, but we didn't have HBO, so our neighbor would tape it each week and deliver a VHS cassette a few days later, packaging the tape in a manila envelope and concealing it in her breast pocket, making the exchange in an SUV parked on the outskirts of town for a thick packet of cash (or maybe she just left it in our mailbox). "This show is incredible!” my mother crowed. She was right: Tony Soprano was a total anomaly in television at the time.
Powerful but petulant - spoiled, misogynistic, deeply damaged, and utterly fascinating. His outbursts were shocking, leaving the viewer to exhale with nervous giggles, but the real twist was that the series also allowed him to be quiet, even boring. Ten minute scenes between your antihero and his even-keeled therapist were not the norm in 1999. Cinematic touches - long, silent scenes; shots of ducks flying into the sky - weren't, either, but it's hard to imagine a heralded cable drama these days without an asshole at its center, demanding our love as he treats his wife badly and then stares at a meaningful piece of shrubbery.
Prior to 1999, Emmy winners for Best Drama were disproportionately cop or hospital shows with consistent, contained formulas. Once The Sopranos got its hooks in, every frontrunner, save a four-year run for The West Wing and its cast of saintly politicos, has been a satisfyingly messy show with a deeply damaged protagonist front and center.
Let's take a look at Tony Soprano's children:
Walter White - Breaking Bad
In a different world, where Albuquerque and Newark are closer together, Heizenberg and Tony would probably be working together. One would royally piss off the other and I'd put all my money on Mr. Soprano until Walter slipped that vial of Ricin into his hoagie. Like Tony, Walter is a manipulative egomaniac, convinced of his own infallibility and incapable of feeling remorse, yet surprisingly softhearted toward the helpless -- Tony had those freaking ducks, and Walter has his own pet, Jesse Pinkman.
Nucky Thompson - Boardwalk Empire
Earlier this season on Boardwalk, Nucky cycled his way through a dream sequence that was an eerie, albeit old-timey callback to Tony's many endless subconscious cycles throughout The Sopranos. That's the tip of the iceberg with these two - they're both crime bosses, sure, and although Nucky exhibits a reserve that was never Tone's style, they've had to kill beloved but troubling underlings, deal with jilted mistresses refusing to go quietly, and avoid offending hair-trigger mafiosos who are big enough Italian stereotypes that they basically walk around with a meatball parm.
Vic Mackey - The Shield
Vic and Tony share so much - they're built like bulls, they wear aggressively unstylish clothing, they love illegally gotten cash, and they stay in terrible marriages. They appear to be better people than they are - and they like it.