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More therapy with Dr Melfi (the character who guides viewer engagement with Tony Soprano): Relationship arcs in serial antihero narratives

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Antihero narratives constitute a common thread in the current boom of TV fiction. The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007) could be considered an early example of this tendency. The antihero is a complex character who demands equally complex responses from viewers. The title of this article is an allusion to Rob White’s article, ‘No more therapy’, in which White explores Dr Jennifer Melfi’s role as a narrative mechanism used to undermine viewer sympathy for Tony Soprano at the end of the series. Here I seek to explore this role further since Dr Melfi’s responses to Tony’s actions serve as a narrative strategy used by The Sopranos writers to guide viewer responses in their relationship with Tony Soprano, a pioneer example of the antihero figure. In doing so, it is my purpose to demonstrate the relevance in antihero TV series of the evolution not only of the antihero themselves but also of their relationship with other major characters over the course of the series. I call this evolution, through which the creators develop the transformational arcs of the two characters concerned: the ‘relationship arc’.
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Keywords: TV series; The Sopranos; antihero narrative; antipathetic strategies; relationship arcs; sympathetic strategies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Polytechnic University of Valencia

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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