In 1995, veteran Italian-American showrunner David Chase, penned a screenplay about a gangster who goes to therapy having issues with his mother. David visits his manager for input on how he felt about the script. His manager encourages him to expand the film as a television series. David accepts his request. David constructed episodes loosely based on his life. He went to therapy as a teenager due to panic attacks, issues with his mother, love of gangster films & Italian culture. After pitching his proposed series to Fox, the network passed. David eventually visited HBO to present his series. HBO green-lit the show & financially supported David. Thus, “The Sopranos” was officially born.
The Sopranos’ pilot episode was filmed in 1997. HBO ordered 12 more episodes as a 13 part story arc. Two Years Later, the series officially aired.
The Sopranos: Season 1 aired in 1999. (same year Fight Club came out) The first season earned critical acclaim from critics & viewers alike. Season 1 later earned numerous awards at “The 57th Golden Globes,” “6th Screen Actors Guild” & “The 51st Primetime Emmy Awards.” James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Nancy Marchand & David Chase ultimately won their individual awards. The Sopranos spawned five seasons from 2000-2007. It also spawned merchandise such as t-shirts, posters, books, (especially a cookbook) & video game titled “Road To Respect.”
The series became a game changer sparking a movement called, “The Golden Age Of Television” influencing many showrunners to develop their own series including “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” “Stranger Things,” “Game Of Thrones,” “The Shield,” “American Horror Story” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Homeland,” “Lost,” “Boardwalk Empire” & “Mad Men” (a boring show)
A prequel film titled, The Many Saints Of Newark” is slated to come out next year with David Chase who will produce & write the screenplay. The late James Gandolfini’s son Michael will also portray Tony Soprano as a teenager. I want to share the nitty gritty breaking down good & bad aspects of one of my favorite television shows of all time until The Many Saints Of Newark comes out in 2020 & commemorate The Sopranos’ 20th anniversary.
The following review doesn’t contain heavy SPOILERS. Keep in mind some SPOILERS are light. Feel free to read my non-spoiler article.
The Entire Season
Positive: James Gandolfini, (may he Rest In Peace) Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, Vincent Pastore, Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler & Nancy Marchand all did an excellent job for their respective performances.
Fun Fact: Ray Liotta was originally gonna portray Tony, but he didn’t want to star in a television series. David Chase ultimately handpicked James Gandolfini after seeing his performance as Virgil in “True Romance.”
Although a serious crime-drama, humor is filled with dark comedy and snarky yet sardonic dialogue. To spice things up a bit, take a shot every time a character drops an “F-Bomb.” If I were you, drink water or something non-alcoholic. I do not condone alcohol poisoning.
The show contains broken bones, beatdowns, bruises & bloodstains.
Tony’s relationships with his family & “other family” both served as the main highlights as does his therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi.
David Chase did an excellent job constructing Season 1’s story arc. He wrote a few episodes. Tony is loosely based on David’s real life panic attacks, suffering from depression since he was a teenager. Tony’s mother Livia, is also based on David’s mother.
The show’s title sequence is arguably the best opening ever made with the song “Woke Up This Morning” playing in the background as Tony is driving his way home. It deserves Bonus Points. I never get tired watching the title sequence.
A few episodes has some twists & turns.
Tony has an interesting backstory. He often talks about his childhood. He also struggles with his own demons as he tries to be a loyal husband/father/comrade.
Vincent Pastore’s character Salvatore Bonpensiero has an amusing codename. Every time I hear his nickname, I laugh my butt off.
There are several references to “The Godfather Trilogy.” Dominic Chianese was also in “The Godfather Part II.”
Uncle Junior is my favorite character. He looks like a cross between Larry David & The Dancing Old Man from Six Flags commercials.
A “big kitty” is also one of my favorite characters. He reminds me of Jeff Garlin. Larry David’s sidekick from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
The show is basically a character centric series focusing on Tony struggling as a family man & gangster.
The soundtrack has a variety of music genres spanning from classic rock, blues, alternate rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop & techo.
Christopher’s girlfriend Adrianna, is hot. She’s ten times hotter than Tony’s wife Carmela, whom I think she’s the least attractive.
Besides The Godfather, the show is filled with pop culture references, taking cues from Quentin Tarantino’s use of pop culture references.
Goodfellas is often referenced. Some of the actors are in the show.
Some episodes contains a bunch of people eating food. It made me hungry to see food on screen. I had to order a large cheese pizza for myself, so I can be an honorary member of Tony’s family/crew.
The Narrative is influenced by the works of Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Coen Brothers & Brian De Palma.
Negative: Product Placement featuring brands such as Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Nike, Adidas, Mott’s, Marlboro, GMC, Bud Light, Nintendo, Budweiser, Coors Light, Capt N’ Crunch, Lincoln, Tropica & Burger King. OH MY GOODNESS! Product Placement is overpopulated than Octomom’s kids!
Cinematography can be shaky in some episodes.
Episode 1 – The Sopranos/Pilot
Rich: The Pilot Episode’s title is obviously named after the titular show.
David Chase wrote & directed the first episode.
The Pilot Episode establishes Tony’s “professional” life working for “waste management” with his “colleagues” & his personal life revolving around his dysfunctional family.
The first episode introduces Tony’s family & mob crew. Uncle Junior & “Big Kitty” are my favorites.
A scene with Tony demanding where his money is, was later spoofed in “Family Guy” when Stewie pummels Brian if he’s got his money.
A cleaver foreshadows Christopher’s future.
Tony’s job shows us audience members what we are about to see is gonna be filled with “F Bombs,” broken bones, crimson stains of blood & a whole lotta naked women not suitable for kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/godchildren & super ultra feminists.
Henry Hill from “Goodfellas” is mentioned. Lorraine Bracco Michael Imperioli & Vincent Pastore were also in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. Can’t believe it lost “Best Picture” over “Dances With Wolves.”
Broke: No sign of any con tracked.
Episode 2 – 46 Long
High: Episode 2’s title is named after a man’s suit size.
The 2nd Episode focuses on Tony’s relationship with his mother Livia and his allies working on “assignments.”
Mike Epps makes a guest appearance.
“Men In Black” is mentioned. Will Smith’s god-awful “Wild Wild West” came out the same year The Sopranos first aired.
An associate of Tony’s did a jab at “The Spice Girls.” Maybe he took his mistress to see “Spice World.” As a result, he hated the film.
A famous filmmaker makes a cameo appearance.
Low: Nothing negative spotted.
Episode 3 – Denial, Anger, Acceptance
Healthy: Episode 3’s title is named after fives stages of “The Kubar-Ross Model.”
Not actually a spoiler, Jackie is taken to the hospital as he’s suffering cancer.
Somebody gets “whacked.”
Tony & his pals work on a “job.”
Two people make a drastic decision.
One scene intercuts between two scenes juxtapositioning with choir music. An homage to the baptism scene from The Godfather.
Unhealthy: Once again, nothing negative spotted.
Episode 4 – Meadowlands
Clean: Episode 4’s title is named after an area located in New Jersey. The title is also a play on word of Tony’s daughter, Meadow.
After Jackie’s untimely death, tensions escalate on who will take over his place.
Tony & AJ play Mario Kart together. If James were alive today, I would’ve love to see him in character playing games on Twitch to promote a film.
Tony becomes stressed due to Jackie’s incurable cancer leading to the latter‘s death.
Although depicted as cold-blooded killers, an emotional moment between Tony & his friends mourn the death of Jackie. Deep down they have standards.
AJ’s encounter with a boy at school factors in as a plot point.
Dirty: Shaky Cam is mostly present.
Episode 5 – College
Approval: Episode 5’s title is obviously named after Tony taking his daughter to sign up for college.
Tony takes Meadow on a road trip to a apply for college. Suddenly… Tony becomes suspicious of a familiar face.
Tony & Meadow’s relationship felt normal. She’s less annoying than AJ.
A movie featuring Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson is shown on TV. Anthony went on to co-star in HBO’s “Westworld” developed by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Foy.
Someone has an emotional breakdown.
Tony confronts the person following him.
A song from “Dumbo” is referenced.
Disapproval: Camera got shaky yet again.
Episode 6 – Pax Soprana
Big: Episode 6’s title is a play on word of “Pax Romana.” An era from The Roman Empire during a period of peace & stability.
After Jackie’s death, Junior takes over his position.
Tony starts having weird dreams.
A new crew member is hired to keep business stable in order to prevent Junior from jeopardizing activities.
A Plot Twist is revealed. I can’t tell what it’s all about.
The end of this episode sets up what’s yet to come.
Small: Couldn’t spot any issues.
Episode 7 – Down Neck
High: Episode 7’s title is named after Tony’s neighborhood.
Tony’s childhood is fleshed out as he recalls his father Johnny Boy & Uncle Junior back in their prime as gangsters & what caused Tony to become a ruthless gangster.
AJ gets in trouble at school.
AJ is seen wearing a “Spawn” t-shirt. HBO also produced an animated series of the title character.
Low: No con spotted.
Episode 8 – The Legend Of A Tennessee Moltisanti
Yay: Episode 8’s title is a play on word of Christopher Moltisanti & playwright Tennessee Williams.
Spike Lee’s trademark floating technique is used in a surreal atmosphere like an episode of “Tales From The Crypt.”
Quentin Tarantino’s camera technique involving a rotating camera with a group of people talking is used. An homage to “Reservoir Dogs.”
Tony is forced to “renovate” his house before “guests” arrive.
Melfi & her family have a conversation about gangster films while eating dinner. Their discussion about movies is something from a Quentin Tarantino picture. Something tells me Quentin wrote & directed this episode uncredited.
Speaking of Quentin, he’s mentioned. James Gandolfini had a role as a henchmen in “True Romance” written by Quentin himself.
A scene from Goodfellas is referenced.
A screenplay in development foreshadows future episodes.
Nay: No negative element spotted.
Episode 9 – Boca
Pretty: Episode 9’s title is named after a place in Florida where Junior goes on a date.
The late Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain is mentioned.
There’s a sole reason on why Meadow’s friend keeps staying at Tony’s house.
A funny as heck part with Tony & Junior made me laugh my rump off.
Ugly: A Freeze-Frame pops up randomly. Freeze-Frames are one of my most disliked cliches in movies & television. I tend to make fun of this trope by pretending to be a narrator of a cheesy soap opera. I prefer a transition like a “wipe effect,” “dissolve” & a “match cut” to imitate a previous shot.
Without giving anything away, the episode’s subject matter becomes “Harsher In Hindsight” (from TV Tropes) due to the fact HBO hired Lena Dunham. If you read her memoir, she’s actually a sociopath worse than Tony lacking redeeming qualities.
Episode 10 – A Hit Is A Hit
Good: 10th Episode’s title is has a double meaning. First definition of “hit” means it has something to do with songs or albums becoming successful. Second definition means assassination wanted dead.
This episode is about Christopher trying to expand the family business in the music industry. The Mob involved in a branch of an Entertainment Industry is an homage to “Get Shorty.”
Christopher attempts a partnership with a rapper.
Tony talks about someone he used to make fun of since he was a kid, made me laugh my rump off.
Christopher & Adrianna’s relationship felt normal. Adrianna is yummy. I’m giving this episode an Extra Point per scene with Adrianna on whatever she wears gets my attention.
Bad: Shaky Cam is possibly filmed by the Coca Puffs mascot.
Episode 11 – Nobody Knows Anything
Well: Episode 11’s title is named after a line spoken by a character.
Tensions rise when somebody is possibly investigating The Crew’s activities, causing Tony to become paranoid.
A fart scene made me laugh hysterically. I love fart jokes.
KISS’ “Lick It Up” is played at Bada Bing. KISS is one of my favorite heavy metal bands.
The end of this episode sets up serious consequences.
Sick: Nothing wasn’t spotted.
Episode 12 – Isabella
Soft: Episode 12’s title is named after a woman Tony encounters.
Tony’s interactions with Isabella factors in as they get to know one another.
Hitman are sent to terminate a prominent figure with extreme prejudice.
An assassination attempt pays tribute to The Godfather. I’ll give you a hint, it has something to do with an orange.
The Crew eat Gabbagool. It’s a type of salumi/cold cuts.
Livia starts to act strange.
A Plot Twist is revealed. I can’t tell you why.
Rough: Could not find anything wrong.
Episode 13 – I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano
True: Episode 13’s title is a play on word of a sitcom titled, “I Dream Of Jeannie.”
Tensions escalates both physically & psychologically for Tony.
Livia continues to act weird.
Tony mentioned he owns a Bruce Springsteen box set. Steve Van Zandt who plays Silvio, is the actual bassist of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.
The main villains of Season 1 are revealed. It’s the closest thing for central antagonists. Tony doesn’t count he’s both a protagonist and villain.
Somebody gets whacked.
A stand-off between Tony & a businessman felt intense.
A central character earns a promotion.
The end of Episode 13 sets up Season 2.
False: No cons were present.
The Final Verdict: A-
The Sopranos’ first season is a decent start filled with unforgettable moments, dialogue, character based storyline, fascinating characters, brutality among many other elements listed. If you want to refresh your knowledge as a fan of The Sopranos like me before “The Many Saints Of Newark,” I highly recommend the first season and the later seasons.
R.I.P. James Gandolfini, thank you for inspiring many showrunners for your legendary performance as Tony Soprano.