For years I’ve signed into the HBO app on my phone and I’ve seen James Gandolfini stare at me. It felt like a test. Watch my show, not Westworld. Watch my show, not Mr. Show again.
At some point in early January, I decided that I needed to watch The Sopranos. It was one of the premiere TV shows that I have not seen, and I felt there was a New Jersey size hole in my pop culture heart that I needed to fill.
Watching the series start to finish over the last three months has been the best 86 hours of 2021. Period. I doubt any other show, book, or movie I consume this year will come close to as being as engrossing and rewarding as The Sopranos was.
There’s little to be said about the show that has not be said before, but here are my thoughts about watching a show of this caliber many years after it’s been off the air.
When The Sopranos first came out in 1999, I remember Q101 would play the theme song. Constantly. It’s been engraved in my head for over twenty years. Flash forward to 2021 when I’m finally watching the show. The song still slaps.
This is one of the few shows I binged where I watched the credits every single time. The music, the editing, all set the pace and tone of the show in ways that shows now cannot even touch. The title sequence for most HBO shows these days feel incredibly sterile, interchangeable, predictable, and are downright dull.
I did my best to avoid spoilers, but having seen a few episodes on A&E back in the day, I did know the fate of several major characters. I’ve actually gotten into several other shows this way: Breaking Bad season 2 and the Jimi Hendrix ending in Battlestar Galactica season 3, and have found the journey to those points to be very rewarding. My wife goes for full-out spoilers, which drives me crazy. I like subtle knowledge, not knowing every major twist and development. Something that’s not terribly different than reading a review of a new release of a movie.
As a parent, I found the scenes where Tony and Carmela are dealing with Meadow and AJ resonated more than I anticipated. Though my daughter is only a pre-schooler, Tony responds in a very id manner – which is often how I want to respond. And it’s hard, especially with a pre-schooler, because she’s still growing and developing and learning to express her emotions. However, you cannot fight fire with fire, which is something that Tony never really gets, but Carmela does to an extent.
While the parenting never transcends, because they’re seldom in lock step, how it weighs on Tony in his sessions with Dr. Melfi really resonated with how I as a parent do my best to reflect and learn from my daughter, and how I can grow as a parent. I’ve heard that parenting goes from being physically exhausting to emotionally, and I cannot think of a show that shows the emotional drain of parenting better than The Sopranos.
Other shows from this era are known for not aging particularly well. Who am I kidding, I’m talking about The West Wing. Rosy, Pollyanna depictions of neoliberalism aside, Sopranos shows that you can have a great show and not have characters talk at 200 mph. The Sopranos curses at 200 mph, but when you watch it, you’re not wondering how coked up the writing staff is.
Speaking of writing staff, Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner are absolute beasts, writing almost half of the episodes in total. I know they primarily worked on the back half of the series, and my preference for those episodes is really recency bias, but at that point the show is running on all cylinders and they’re writing what feels like every episode. I think the latter seasons benefitted from what was actual character growth. Vito’s story moved me so much because it was one of the few examples of love in the show, yet he met a cruel fate because of it.
The one thing that has not aged well about The Sopranos are the little things. There are a couple times through the show, even into Season 5, which just strike me as odd. This includes strange edits, awkward fades, and clunky CGI. And that episode where Tony’s mom passes is bizarre. In the 22 years since it’s premiere and with the advancement in modern editing techniques and software, we’ve all come to expect immaculate shows. But these prove you can have an incredible and compelling show that doesn’t feel like it was scripted, shot, and edited in a lab.
The biggest thing for me that dates the show is how much everyone smokes, and i’m not just talking about Johnny Sack. Watching the show now, I often wondered how many cigarette butts from the cast and crew of The Sopranos are slowly decomposing in New Jersey. I’m not aware of another show currently on the air, or one in recent memory, where people smoke like chimneys.
I have seldom finished something and wanted to start it over from the beginning as much as I have The Sopranos. I know the show is booming in popularity thanks to everyone being stuck at home binge watching, and this leading to several podcasts by actors about the show. I fully plan on getting more into the world by trying to finish reading this damn essay, this book, finishing these fantastic episode reviews now that there are no spoilers for me, and I’m really interested in the forthcoming book from Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa.
I look forward to extending the best 86 hours of 2021 into many more hours by reading and extending my appreciation for this excellent series.
Favorite Soprano Family Characters
Favorite Non-Soprano Family Characters
- Richie Aprile
- Dr. Melfi
- Vito Spatafore
- Rosalie Aprile
- Johnny Sack
- David Lee Roth