Last Season of 'Sopranos' Bittersweet for Jersey

On Sunday, the HBO drama The Sopranos returns for its sixth and final season. It's bittersweet news for New Jersey residents. Although the show highlights the dark side of Jersey life, it also captures the state's strange beauty. Robert Smith travels the state's now familiar highways, byways and toll plazas.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, on to the mob on TV. This Sunday, the HBO drama The Sopranos returns for its sixth and final season. That's bittersweet news for the folks in New Jersey, where the show takes place. Although the Sopranos highlights the dark side of Jersey life, it also captures the state's strange beauty.

NPR's Robert Smith went out to travel the now familiar highways, byways, and toll plazas.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Driving from New York City into the industrial expanse of New Jersey used to be an underwhelming experience, but now as you pull out of the Lincoln Tunnel and curve around to the turnpike, a certain song always comes to mind.

(Soundbite of song, "Woke Up This Morning")

A3: (Singing) Woke up this morning, all that love had gone. Your papa never told you about right and wrong.

SMITH: The Sopranos opening credits, and indeed the whole series is a sort of love letter to the forgotten side of New Jersey--the highways and toll plazas, the swamps and underpasses, the pizza places and butcher shops have all had their cameos on the show, and a hardcore group of Jersey fans tracks ever fleeting shot of their state.

From the road, I call up Sue Saydick(ph), better known as Soprano Sue, and tell her I just drove through the tunnel.

Ms. SUE SAYDICK (Sopranos Fan): Oh, that's the best. Go through the tunnel just like Tony Soprano, that is fun.

SMITH: Sue runs a Web site that collects every bit of gossip about the show. She knows where all the fictional bodies are buried.

Ms. SAYDICK: You know, everywhere I go, I can recognize a scene from the show. That's why you couldn't film The Sopranos in Pleasanton, California. You couldn't do it.

SMITH: Sue rattles off a list of places where The Sopranos have filmed that I must visit on this day trip. She also directs me to a Google map on the HBO Web site that matches up locations in New Jersey with clips from the show.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

(Soundbite of a man being beaten)

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) You draw down on the boss of a family? You pushed me to this! You pushed me to this!

SMITH: In the show, Tony Soprano holds a gun to his nephew Christopher's head on what looks like a deserted road.

(Soundbite of car rolling over gravel

SMITH: In real life, the location is a subdivision in Bergen County. Angela and Frankie Monteleoni live down the street, and are still arguing--two years after that scene was shot in their neighborhood--about whether the show is a good depiction of their New Jersey.

MS. ANGELA MONTELEONI (Bergen County Resident): I don't like the language.

Mr. FRANKIE MONTENLEONI (Bergen County Resident): Oh, what's the matter you don't like the language? I love, what you talking about?

Ms. MONTELEONI: You like it for that, I don't like it. The language

Mr. MONTELEONI: I love it. Because of the, what do you call it, the (speaks foreign language), the true...

Ms. MONTELEONI: The action that they take of everything.

SMITH: They don't get too many tour busses gawking at this sight, but just a few miles away, off of Interstate 80, is a sexier location.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Mr. Gandolfini: (As Tony Soprano) Let's go get a drink.

SMITH: The Bada Bing strip club on The Sopranos really is a strip club, The Satin Dolls. As I walk across the parking lot, a burley man with a slick pony tail steps in front of me and tells me to put away the microphone.

He says his name is, and this is no joke, Cranky, and he's the day manager. He says that tourists do find the place, and they can buy a souvenir g-string inside, but there's no recording.

Cranky says it's a men's club, not Disney Land. I check in again with Soprano Sue, and she says that it takes a brave man to follow the trail of The Sopranos. Seeing it all, she estimates, could take days.

Ms. SAYDICK: You have to go on the parkway and get gas where Pauley Walnuts got his gas. You have to go to Stewart's and sit down and have a hamburger where Tony Soprano eats--about three, four days. I could keep you busy out there for a while.

SMITH: Well, the one thing that you never see on the show is how long it takes to get everywhere in Northern New Jersey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAYDICK: I told you, if I was driving you around, I would've taken you through parking lots, and you would have beat all the traffic.

SMITH: I want to see the scene of at least one whacking, as they call it on the show. And as it's getting dark I pull into the trail head at the South Mountain Reservation in South Orange.

This is where Tony had his nephew's girlfriend Adriana shot.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Ms. DREA DE MATTEO: (As Adriana) No, no, no! No.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

SMITH: The place is eerie in real life, too. Especially when a man emerges from the trees wielding a golf club.

SAM GETTS (South Orange Resident): If my wife finds out, I'm in trouble. I'm hitting some golf balls in preparation for the spring season.

SMITH: Sam Getts, it turns out, is a fan of The Sopranos, but he didn't know that these woods were immortalized on the show. He says the joke about Jersey used to be what exit are you from? Now it seems like you could just reference which 'Sopranos' location you live near. Getts isn't sad, though, to see the series come to a close.

Mr. GETTS: Everything's gotta end, just as The Godfather did, so I guess enough is enough.

SMITH: Does New Jersey lose something when The Sopranos go off the air?

Mr. GETTS: Probably a little bit more of the mystique, but I'm sure there's something else will come along to replace it. There are the reruns, you know.

SMITH: And just as it's hard to look at the Manhattan skyline without thinking of the films of Woody Allen, the turnpike will always belong to Tony Soprano.

Robert Smith, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Woke Up This Morning")

A3: (Singing) ...a blue moon in your eyes. So you woke up this morning, the world turned upside down. No, there are the things ain't been the same since the blues walked in our town. But you're, but you're one in a million, you've got that shotgun shine. Born under a bad sign, with a blue moon in your eyes. Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun. Got yourself a gun. Got yourself a gun.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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