The impact of The Sopranos and its status as one of the greatest TV series of all time is already well documented.
But in the 12 years since its 86th and final episode, Made in America, left viewers wondering whether Tony Soprano had lived or died, Sopranos diehards haven't quite had the chance to celebrate their fandom in the same way viewers of Sex and the City, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones have. The settings in New York, England's Highclere Castle, and Belfast and Dubrovnik, respectively, have become so popular with day trippers that they've been damaged by dangerous overcrowding.
There are tours for The Sopranos that leave from Manhattan. But seeing the nondescript backdrop to remote New Jersey nightspot the Bada Bing, which became Tony's workplace, doesn't have quite the same appeal – and the real-life owners of Tony's home have even banned guides from visiting the secluded cul-de-sac. Earlier this year, though, when the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos' first episode and season sparked yet another outpouring of praise, megafans Michael Mota, Daniel Trader and Joe Fama knew people "were bursting at the seams" to fully honour David Chase's beloved creation. "There's not a lot that celebrates a show that is the best in history. You'd think there would be more," Mota tells The National.
Their solution was to create The Sopranos' answer to Comic-Con, called SopranosCon. Next month, more than 10,000 fans will descend on New Jersey to come face to face with other enthusiasts and more than 40 members of its cast.
The Sopranos meets Comic-Con
The event will feature appearances from the likes of Tony Sirico (Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri) Federico Castelluccio (Furio Giunta), Vince Pastore (Salvatore Bonpensiero), Drea de Matteo (Adriana La Cerva) and Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior), who will also sing and perform with his band. The immersive experience will also recreate the opening credit sequence, Bada Bing, Holsten's diner, where the final sequence took place, and include comedians, panel sessions and trivia. It will even give visitors a chance to pet Pie-O-My, the horse Ralph Cifaretto almost certainly had slaughtered. And there will also be ducks. Lots and lots of ducks. (Tony has a particular affinity with flock of wild ducks that took up residence in his pool.)
The Sopranos' return to pop culture consciousness has once again provoked people to endlessly discuss its divisive conclusion, in which the most brutal cut to black in editing history leaves fans to forever debate the fate of James Gandolfini's congenial crime lord.
Mota, who for one believes that Tony survived, says the constant, unanswerable intrigue surrounding this "epic cliffhanger" is one of the reasons "so many people are still so interested" in The Sopranos. "There's still so much out there that's not finished. It'll never be finished. People will forever reach for answers and not receive them. And that's what is so exciting and makes people so excited for this."
The Sopranos appeal is global
Even though its place among the pantheon of great TV shows will forever be secure, 20 years after its debut, does The Sopranos actually still merit such festivity?
Castelluccio, who portrayed Furio from seasons two to four, has never seen a lull in its popularity. He is still asked for autographs and pictures wherever he goes in the world. "I was drinking out of a fountain in Italy once, and I could feel three or four people behind me. I thought they were queuing for the fountain, but they only wanted my picture," he recalls. "They weren't even Italians – they were from Israel. So I knew all of these years that there was this attraction and this calling from Sopranos fans to meet us and get close to us."
Fanatics from as far as England and Australia are attending SopranosCon, says Mota. "People are renting out Cadillacs just for this," he says.
During his preparation for the event, he has met impersonators, fans who can recite every line, as well as big-business owners, professionals, students and a whole new younger generation of viewers who are now streaming the show.
What does David Chase think?
More than a dozen former Sopranos cast members have also contacted Mota solely to take part, with Castelluccio revealing that despite working 15, 16 and sometimes 18-hour days on set together, there remains a tight bond between them. "It is such a great feeling. Giving the people the chance to meet us face to face. It is incredible for them, and for us, too."
Castelluccio admits he is often asked whether he was disappointed to be pigeonholed by his performance as Furio, who Tony brought over from Naples to work as his soldier, only for Furio to flee after he falls in love with Tony's wife, Carmela. "I don't feel that way at all," he insists. "If you're pigeonholed, you're working. I just love being associated with the greatest television show of all time."
SopranosCon has even gained such momentum that, says Castelluccio, The Sopranos creator and showrunner Chase has even learnt about its existence. His humble response to that? "Really? People still care about the show that much?"
If Mota has his way, people across the globe will be able to demonstrate to Chase how much they still care about the show, as he wants to take SopranosCon on a worldwide tour and has plans for a Mob Movie Con that will dive deeper into the genre.
Before then, though, fans can get their fill of Mafia merriment when SopranosCon unfolds in New Jersey next month.
SopranosCon takes place on Saturday and Sunday, November 23 and 24, at Meadowlands Exposition Centre, New Jersey. More information is available at www.sopranoscon.com