Television Revision: The Sopranos – Season 1


By Andrew Williams
March 19, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is a New Jersey mob boss with a twist: he’s seeing a psychiatrist (Lorraine Bracco).


Happy days? When recommending shows to people, I generally mention the number of episodes they should watch before deciding if it’s to their liking or not. Most television series take time to work themselves out, but The Sopranos is not one of them. If you’re unimpressed by the pilot – one of the greatest in the history of the medium – nothing to come is likely to change your mind. That’s no criticism of the six seasons to follow; more an indication of the sure-footed brilliance on display from the get-go.

Of the holy trinity of HBO dramas that changed the face of television (also includes The Wire and Deadwood), The Sopranos is the only breakout hit. On one hand, the reason for that is obvious: Americans love crime dramas, especially when they concern the Mafia. On the other hand, like its movie predecessors in Goodfellas and The Godfather (or even video game Grand Theft Auto), this was much more than just a mob drama. Creator David Chase etched a compelling tale of family, trust, and betrayal built around a magnetic leading man and an original concept. Viewers came for the crime; they stayed for the drama.

The final frontier: The Sopranos is possibly the consensus choice for the greatest TV series of all time, and its first season might be its best. Funny, deep, tense, violent, heartbreaking, entertaining, and brilliant.


Top three episodes: 1) The Sopranos. Chase introduces us to his world and his instantly compelling players with supreme confidence. The thematic depth here alone could sustain an entire university course. 5) College. As much as I’ve gushed about the pilot, it’s not even the best episode of the season. College is, as two very different games of cat and mouse demonstrate how power can shift in the smallest of moments. 13) I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano. The season’s arc – in which Tony’s mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) and his Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) orchestrate a coup  – comes to an expert end.

Worst episode: 10) A Hit is a Hit. If College demonstrated how to tell standalone stories that informed the overall arcs of the characters and shaded in the themes of the season, A Hit is a Hit ignores those lessons. That said, it’s still a good episode; just not an elite one.

Season MVP: A friend of mine loves The Sopranos more than possibly life itself, and yet I have never heard him say the lead actor’s name. No, to this super-fan, James Gandolfini will forever be Tony Soprano. (As in: “I really enjoyed the performance of Tony Soprano in Killing Them Softly.) It’s a mark of how indelible and charismatic a performance Gandolfini gives; you cannot look away if he’s on the screen. He is, for better or worse, Tony Soprano.


The Sopranos is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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