Lou Costello appeared in two episodes of HBO’s The Sopranos. Sort of.
New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano of the DiMeo crime family used Paterson’s statue of the comedian as a meeting spot in two episodes; Paterson is Costello’s home town. In “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Tony saw the recent import of Furio from Italy as an ignition to rearrange his familial paradigm. Costello’s statue, a New Jersey landmark, offered symbolism to a confab between Tony and Paul, a mobster who once worked for Tony’s father.
In his 2002 book The Sopranos on the Couch: The Ultimate Guide, Maurice Yacowar explained, “Furio’s arrival creates some possible problems for Tony. He coaxes Artie into providing a job front for Furio’s immigration, as master cheesemaker. Only later, meeting outside The Lou Costello Memorial, does Tony inform Paul. The site suggests the comical sidekick that Paulie fears he is becoming. Lou’s statue stands parallel behind Paulie in one shot, and looms over him, hat befouled, in another. But that is rather Pussy’s fate, as Tony promotes Paulie and Silvio and leaves Pussy to report to them.”
Tony met with rival boss Phil Leotardo at the Costello statue in “Cold Stones” to discuss the storm surrounding Vito Spatafore’s homosexuality. While this presented a problem for Tony and his old school associates, the issue went deeper for Phil—Vito is a cousin, hence, a betrayer of bloodline. Ultimately, two underlings beat Vito to death while Phil watches.
Costello’s statue portrays the rotund funnyman—one half of the comedy team Abbott & Costello, the duo responsible for “Who’s on First,” perhaps the greatest comedy routine ever—bearing a grin, wearing a derby, and casually resting a bat on his left shoulder. “Who’s on First” contains Costello feverishly trying to deduce the names of the players on a ball club, with Abbott trying to explain that Who’s on first, What’s on second, etc.
Another baseball reference appeared in the episode “Down Neck” during a flashback scene set in 1967, when Tony discovered that his uncle and his father—Corrado “Junior” Soprano and John “Johnny Boy” Soprano—operate in a criminal sphere of society. As Junior picks up Johnny Boy to begin their daily duties, he lauds a certain Yankee to his nephew: “Hey! Did ya hear the game last night? Joey Pepitone! Three RBI’s!”
In addition to the Paterson site, New Jersey filming locations for The Sopranos included the Pulaski Skyway, the Asbury Park boardwalk, and Newark Penn Station.
The Sopranos burst onto television screens on January 10, 1999 with James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano, a Garden State mafia don prone to panic attacks. In Variety, Phil Gallo wrote, “Gandolfini does a lot with body language, and his mood is nicely limned in virtually every scene; it can be summed up as a midlife crisis, yet it feels like so much more; life will never be the same. Eventually, Tony Soprano’s only comfortable with a handful of friends and his psychiatrist.”
Upon HBO’s rerunning the first season in the summer of 1999, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote, “‘The Sopranos,’ more than any American television in memory, looks, feels and sounds like real life. Watch any episode and you’re likely to come away with the queasy feeling of having consumed a greasy slice of late-90’s America with its surreal mature of prosperity and brutishness. Tony, a northern New Jersey mob boss in his early 40’s, isn’t an exotic evil king holed up in a fortified stone castle. He is a middle-class family man who, except for his occupation, is pretty much like the rest of us.”
The Sopranos finished its run in 2007.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 20, 2016.
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