There are many possible reasons for the appeal of the mob. Many depictions of the way the mafia works show them getting exactly what they want – even being treated like royalty by everyone from restaurant maitre d’s to corrupt police chiefs. It might be power that’s generated through fear but who, secretly, wouldn’t also like to have that influence in the world? The fact that it’s also a secret society with its own rituals and bonds of honour also makes the mafia all the more interesting and cryptic, ruled as it is by the principle of “omerta” and which has its origins in the organisation’s Italian roots.
From murder mystery parties to video games, there are lots of places we can get a fix for our mob-session. But TV shows are what we love at TV Is My Pacifier, so here’s our pick of the best mafia-themed shows to ever grace the screen.
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1. Boardwalk Empire
Many gangsters made their money through the gambling industry – a storyline at the heart the first of the TV series that we’re looking at today. Set in the 1920s, the era of prohibition which did much to allow the mafia to get a foothold in the States, Boardwalk Empire tells the story of the early days of Atlantic City where crooked politicians rub up alongside mob bosses in a grab for power. It’s a fascinating period of history that’s inspired everything from books including Dennis Lehane’s 2012 bestseller “Live by Night,” to Mafia Madness – an online slot game that leaves you feeling as though you are an infamous gangster, trying your best to make money.
Boardwalk Empire premiered in September 2010 with a pilot episode directed by the grand master of mafia movies, Martin Scorsese, and allegedly costing $18 million. It starred Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, the corrupt treasurer of Atlantic County; other cast members included the British actor Stephen Graham playing Al Capone and Greg Antonacci as Johnny Torrio, the head of the Chicago mafia. The series was very well received as soon as it was launched, with critics picking out Buscemi’s performance as being one of the many highlights of the show, which went on to run for five seasons, ending in 2014.
For a very different take on the mafia theme, one only has to look at this Norwegian-American co-production that ran for three eight-episode seasons from 2012 until 2014 and is said to have been the very first time that Netflix offered exclusive online content.
It tells the story of a New York gangster named Frank Tagliano who has broken the code of silence to inform on mafia boss Aldo Delucci and has been placed in the federal witness protection program. He decides that he will be safe from reprisals if he moves to Lillehammer in Norway and adopts a new identity as Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen. However, soon after moving to his new home, he can’t resist the urge to continue in his old ways. In addition, Aldo hears about his new location and identity and sends henchmen to kill him, but they are unsuccessful.
Frank/Johnny is played by Steven van Zandt, who’s also a famous member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, with most of the rest of the cast being played by Norwegian actors and, although the series was relatively short lived, an estimated 20% of the population of Norway were reported to have watched the first episode.
3. The Sopranos
Fans of this HBO series will already have been very familiar with Van Zandt from his role as Silvio Dante, Tony Soprano’s best friend and confidante, in what must surely be the greatest mafia series of all time. Its series finale notched up 11.9 million viewers for HBO, the highest ever for the channel at the time.
Running for six seasons between 1999 and 2007, it told the story of the mafia gang from New Jersey and also centred on the relationship between Tony and his family, as well as his therapist, played by Lorraine Bracco, who had her work cut out in helping the gang boss work through his numerous issues. These included a mother and an uncle who wanted to see him dead as well as a deep sense of guilt for all the pain and suffering he caused all those around him.
The brainchild of showrunner David Chase, the series won universal praise for the way that it combined a mob story with true psychological drama. Many people consider it the greatest TV show of all time and the role of Tony made sure that the late James Gandolfini would achieve legendary status as TV’s most iconic mob boss.
However, no rundown of the greatest mafia series of all time could overlook the programme which, arguably, gives the most realistic picture of what being a member of the Italian camorra is really like.
Gomorrah is made by Sky Italy and its third season was first aired in November 2017. At the very start of the first series we met the head of the Savastano clan, Don Pietro, who was trying to groom his son Gennaro to take over as capo.
As the action progressed Don Pietro was imprisoned bringing Gennaro to the head of the family and having to pick up how to lead a crime syndicate as well as he could. Hindrances included treacherous allies as well as a number of other crime families hoping to seize power.
What really sets the series apart is the gritty and realistic depiction of life in the most deprived parts of Naples – just as The Wire managed to do for Baltimore – as well as the fact that all the shifting allegiances mean that you really never know what to expect next.
Further proof of its authenticity is that the Roberto Saviano, writer of the book that spawned the series as well as a movie of the same name, now has to live under armed guard for fear of mafia reprisals.
So if the mafia’s a subject that even only slightly piques your interest, we guarantee you’ll get sucked into any one of these series right from the off.