Who Likes Unlikable Characters?

TheSopranos

My husband and I just finished watching the entire Sopranos series. I’m probably one of the last people on Earth to see The Sopranos, I know, but after James Gandolfini passed away, I wanted to see the show that made him a star. I wanted to see his legacy. So about a year ago, hubby-pants and I fired up HBO Go and went to town. Now, he had seen most of the series (he stopped watching for whatever reason around the fourth season), and then tuned in for the finale. As you may have figured out, I was a Sopranos virgin.

Fast forward to a few days ago when the screen went black at the end of that infamous series finale, and I had a few things to say…

First of all, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Hubby-pants tried to explain the groundbreaking nature of the show: mafia-centric, from the perspective of the criminals, big-picture that includes home and family life, etc. I’ve decided to give him this defense, especially since I’ve strived to be equally as groundbreaking with my own Blood for Blood Series (partially told from the perspective of a female serial killer while exploring her psyche). However, I do have to take issue with the number of unlikable, can’t-standable characters constantly on-screen during The Sopranos.

Tony Soprano is a pig. His infidelity is repulsive. The way he speaks to his wife, his kids, his family, and his friends is disgusting. Eww.

Carmela Soprano should be a sympathetic character because Tony cheats on her and treats her like shit, but she’s not. Why? Because all Tony has to do is buy her a fur coat, a new car, or a shiny bauble and she turns a blind eye to the mistresses, the abuse, and the overall inexcusable behavior of her husband.

Meadow and A.J. Soprano are so fake. They both straddle the line between being spoiled mob prince/princess and pretending to care about the problems and injustices of the world. Both can be silenced with the perks of being a Soprano, same as their mother.

Everybody else? Sucked. Paulie, Chris, Adriana, Janice, Junior, Livia. I could go on and on. They were all horrible people. No one had actual friends. I mean, actual, REAL friendships. Going “way back”, smiling in each other’s faces, and telling old stories while inwardly wishing each other dead or wondering if the others wish you dead is NOT a relationship.

And don’t even get me started on Tony’s shrink, Dr. Melfi, and her merry little circle of friends/fellow psychiatrists. Good grief.

But…

My darling husband brought up a good point: if the characters conjure up such hatred, but viewers continue to tune in, hat’s off to the writers, right? I fell quiet when he said this. Why? Because I can’t count how many times I’ve said this in book reviews. If I hate a character it’s most likely because the writer did their job and portrayed the individual in such a light on purpose.

As a matter of fact, when I submitted the first draft of Blood in the Past to an editor, they returned the manuscript, complaining that Jillian Atford’s character was too unlikable because of her affair with a married cop. I refused to change the character because her actions were integral to the overall story, but I added things to make her tolerable. Her foster home childhood, for example, allows readers to see that Jillian never had anything of her own, that things were always taken from her, and that she felt she deserved to be happy, regardless of the situation.

In a lot of ways, I think the writers of The Sopranos did the same with their characters. Tony Soprano was very protective of his family. Janice wouldn’t stand for a man who physically abused her. Uncle Junior slowly succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Again, I can go on and on.

In the end, I stand by my internal 3-star rating of The Sopranos for other reasons, but maybe I should lay off them for being so unlikable. Thoughts?

 

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7 thoughts on “Who Likes Unlikable Characters?

  1. Idiot Closet! I MEANT idiosyncrasy closet strikes, again!

    I’ve never seen the show; not one episode. But this makes for an excellent conversation. I am probably more invested in the “monsters” of my books than the so-called good guy.

    And where would the Blood Series be without the coldblooded horrifying character you’ve created??

    This helps me think ahead, to the people who (will never read or review) I meant, the people who will despise my characters, and give me 1, 2, 3 star ratings based upon my antags. I think people do it often, and instead of taking it as an insult, maybe, like Justin said, I did my job. For once. Ugh

    • Haha. I think I’ve actually mentioned the did-their-job/signs-of-good-writer thing when reviewing your books. Lol. The world is full of unlikable characters, so I guess it would be unrealistic to write without them, huh?

      • Tee-hee! Yup, I think so.

        And very unrealistic, yes. But it is always fascinating to me when people only want to read about fluffy characters who are .. .flawless. I’m not into that, and it’s interesting to me when people read something I write and wonder, “Where’s the happy ending?”

        Well, the characters weren’t the happy ending type.

  2. I think the key is to give those unlikable characters a reason or two to like them despite their actions. That’s tricky for a writer to pull off, and that’s an area I need to work on with my “bad guys.” One-dimensional bad guys make for bland reading. When a writer starts melding bad with some good, the world becomes murky and keeps people reading (or watching). I haven’t seen the Sopranos and don’t intend to, but I suspect my impression would be much like yours.

  3. I rather like Carmella, but I think it’s worth noting if you were in that situation would you really want to be friends with someone? I mean really friends with them? I think they’re as close as they can allow themselves to be, but when you’re a part of an organized crime family, I don’t think anywhere is ever safe. So that’s my thoughts there. I actually like the show, I think it’s interesting and groundbreaking, and maybe the characters are more anti-heroes, but I don’t think that makes them any less likable. In fact, in my personal opinion sometimes it’s the villains/anti-heroes that are the most interesting. They’re flawed and imperfect and that makes them interesting. I don’t know, that’s just me, as a writer I’m sort of oddly fascinated by why people do the things they do. There are always two sides to every story, and I like learning as many sides as possible.

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