Recently I caught an early episode of The Sopranos all cut up on Bravo or somewhere.
It inspired me to rewatch the first season on DVD again.
And of course, I got rehooked, obsessed actually and ended up rewatching the entire series.
I had watched probably the first four seasons first-run weekly on HBO and maybe the last couple on DVD. Though on the first go around I loved it, I did have some problems with it. On this second go-around those issues didn't bother me as much.
For instance the first time watching the series, I would get frustrated on what felt like were “stand-alone episodes” (like, the music biz episode A Hit is a Hit or the Jon Favreau one, D-Girl), where the A-Story was brand new and story lines from the previous week were ignored. However on this latest marathon go-around, I didn't have that problem. Probably because I wasn’t having to wait another week to get back into the story lines that mattered to me, only another fifty minutes. Also this time watching those "stand-alone episodes" I still could find little character developments I may not had noticed before.
On my first viewing I would often get bored with the interplay between Tony and Dr Melfi, sometimes I would find it redundant. Not this time. Often I found those scenes the highlights of many episodes.
However what still annoyed the hell of me are the dream sequences. It's a cheap way to reveal character insight. I mean, who remembers their dreams that vividly? And are all our dreams that significant? Those scenes often felt straight out of Living In Oblivion, or a TV directors chance at strutting his David Lynch/ experimental film school magic.
But what does works on the show... Wow does it work!
Less a typical ‘crime drama’ or ‘mafia saga’ and more a psychological character study of a world changing and a slew of characters not knowing how to cope with those changes.
The potpourri of pop references and (often already dated) modern life mixed with the criminal world can be exhilarating. The small details of these people’s daily life. The complicated relationships between Tony and his crew, the other crews, his family, politicians and everyday pedestrians is so rich in detail and constantly changing and expanding.
These people have seen all the same gangster flicks we have and are often self aware of their own story. They live in their own Truman Show world in their own head. For instance, as Christopher attempts to write a screenplay, he grows more and more self doubt and asks himself about his own life “Where’s my arc?”
With no “original score” the use of established music and the editing of the 'where and when' the music falls in a scene is often nothing short of genius (“World Destruction” by Time Zone was a particular stand out for me).
But the real stand out... the Acting.
As the big-dog Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini might give the greatest performance in TV history. It’s certainly up there on my list with Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy (not The Lucy Show), Carroll O’Conner in the first couple a seasons of All In The Family (that show deteriorated fast) and maybe, Nick Nolte in Rich Man, Poor Man.
With the help of great writing Gandolfini‘s Tony is so rich and complicated. Amazingly with all the popularity the show found, neither the actor nor the show ever make Tony overly lovable. When he comes too close to our embrace they usually pull back and have him do something cruel. Besides the rich palate of colors Gandolfini paints Tony in, his performance is usually fearless. Besides letting him be ugly, with his belly hanging out of his tight wife-beater and bath robe or the way he breathes disgustingly loud while slopping food down he is constantly lying to others or to himself.
All of his appetites are highlighted and he’s never able to fully control them. In his conversations with Melfi, when feeling sorry for himself, he often brings up what a good person he is and then second later he'll be screaming his head off at her. His insecurities are also always on display. A great moment comes after his coma, when he returns to work, he sneaks peeks at the biceps of his crew, then picks a unnecessary brawl to show his strength.
His moments of trying to connect with his son Anthony Jr can also be deeply moving. One of the most memorable is after A.J. sneaks in a sword to kill Uncle Junior and is subsequently arrested and released to Tony, he tries to explain himself by citing his Father’s respect for Pacino’s Michael in The Godfather, Tony looks at him, baffled and near tears and says “you gotta grow up”. What’s brilliant about those type of moments with Tony, is our (the audience) expectations is to finally get a loving moment of good advice, so we can fully embrace Tony, but keenly the writers also cut Tony short from reaching full sap.
Of course Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano also adds much depth. Most interesting is her guilt over how the family acquires it’s wealth, while at the same time her exploiting the fear and power being the wife of Tony Soprano brings her.
I could go on and on with praise for the entire cast. Everyone proves perfectly cast.
It’s interesting that the show often cites The Godfather and Goodfellas, of course many of the cast including two of the shows leads Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Lorraine Bracco (Dr Melfi) are alums of the Scorsese flick as were Tony Sirico, Joseph R. Gannascoli, Vincent Pastore and Frank Vincent and many who popped in for single episodes.
Bracco deceivingly got an Oscar Nom’ for Goodfellas. Joe Pesci won the Best Supporting Actor award. But Bracco did not. Losing out to... hold on to your seat... Whoopi Goldberg for egads! Ghost.
Some random thoughts on the seasons....
- Maybe the best season. The introduction to the family and the crew. The relationship between Tony and Dr Melfi is at it’s best (as the series progresses over the years credibility is strained that they would continue their treatment).
- The heart of the first season though is Nancy Marchand as Tony’s mother, Livia Soprano, both monstrous and hilarious, her manipulation of both Tony and Uncle Junior against each other is brilliantly played.
- There’s great stuff with Tony’s teenage kids Meadow and Anthony Jr coming to grips with what their father does for a living.
- John Heard has a memorable couple episodes as a dirt cop hired by Tony to learn about Melfi.
- The most talked about episode College is indeed terrific, but in some ways a stand alone episode. Not only is it nice seeing Tony have to relate to his daughter and the real world (before spotting a creep who testified against the mob) while touring collages. Back at home the awkward sexual tension between Carmela and the young priest, Father Phil is a lot of fun.
- Christopher trying to write a screenplay is entertaining, and another example of the shows postmodern sensibility to almost comment on itself. In Goodfellas, Imperioli as Spider, Joe Pesci ends up shooting him for not paying him respect in the episode, The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, Chris does the same thing to a young Bakery worker.
- Episode 10 A Hit is a Hit is the weakest entry of Season One.
- Episode 12 Isabella. Too many dream sequences.
- Oksana Lada as Tony’s Russian girlfriend Irina is wonderful and probably the best looking of the many woman Tony beds throughout the series.
- New Jersey must have some cool TV channel that seems to constantly air old movies. And it’s not even cable, because characters with rabbit ear antennas even seem to be watching classic B&W movies as well.
- The final Episode 13 I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano a masterpiece. Carmela goes off on Father Phil. And the final scene between Tony and his mother is one of the great moments in the entire series.
- It continues nicely on the path season one created.
- Maybe the most horrible, annoying human being The Sopranos ever created becomes a regular, Tony’s manipulative sister Janice, perfectly rendered by Aida Turturro, (while his other sister Barbara, only occasionally pops up and is rarely crucial to the plots).
- Episode 4 Commendatori, the trip to Italy episode, is a lively one. We are introduced to Furio. And the actress Sofia Milos as Annalisa Zucca is a real stunner
- Richie Aprile (the creepy David Proval), is this seasons guest antagonist for Tony and like all who hook up with Janice, he meets an ugly conclusion.
- I like all the b-story concerning Pussy’s ratting Tony out to the Feds, and then his downfall.
- Episode 5 Big Girls Don't Cry where Christopher takes an acting class is amusing (though what lame ass acting teacher would have her student do a scene from Rebel Without A Cause?).
- The slow ugly fall of sporting goods store owner and ex jock Davey Scatino (Robert “T2” Patrick) is amusing and pathetic.
- Episode 7 D Girl though entertaining, just feels too gimmicky.
- But the rest of the season is perfect. Episode 8 Full Leather Jacket is a classic. In which Richie seethes over Tony giving away his prized leather jacket.
- I loved Carmela’s efforts to get it on with the hunky Maintenance Man.
- Episode 1 Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood, with the Feds trying to plant a bug in the Soprano home was terrific.
- The rest of the season was not as strong as season’s one and two.
- Joe Pantoliano as Ralph Cifaretto was terrific filling as this seasons guest antagonist forTony , a real pain in Tony’s ass. However there was too much of him. Why for instance were he and Rosalie Aprile having dinner with the Soprano’s seemingly every week?
- Also too much Jackie Jr. (Jason Cerbone) that stuff got boring. The actor is fine, but his characters arc feels rushed. What should of been over the course of many seasons feels jammed into six or seven episodes.
- In Proshai, Livushka Episode 2, the computer edited scene between Tony and his mother (Nancy Marchand, died before three begun shooting), felt strange.
- The Steve Buscemi directed Episode 11 Pine Barrens (Christopher and Paulie get lost in the woods) is hailed by many as the best episode ever. It is pretty funny, it still feels like a stand alone episode and only rudimentary connects with the episodes before and after it.
- Tony’s affair with the nut job car deal (Annabella Sciorra, still very sexy) had an outcome that though powerful, felt a little too inevitable.
- Meadow off to collage was fine, but her african American boyfriend felt forced.
- Dr Melfi’s attack was excellently handled and feeling her urge to reach out to Tony was gripping.
Picks up from Season Three and generally improves on it.
- The stuff with Ralph and Tony ‘s horse was great.
- Great guest work, standouts include Linda Lavin as Meadow's therapist and Peter Bogdanovich as Melfi's uptight therapist. And Peter Riegert as a corrupt politician, is wonderful. The scene where Tony gives him a wiping is unforgettable.
- Great stuff with Meadow coming to understand her father’s career and her mother’s lack of education.
- Episode 3 Christopher, written by actor Michael Imperioli was a weaker one. It centers on the fight with Native Americans over Columbus Day. It also, rather weakly, explores the twisted sexual practices of Ralph.
- Episode 4 The Weight really kicks the season into gear, after Ralph ‘crack’s-wise about Johnny Sacks overweight wife. They prove to have the most love of any couple on the show.
- Everything with Adriana (Drea de Matteo, a scene stealer) and the FBI coming down on her really works well.
- The potential Furio & Carmela romance is fun.
- In Episode 8 Mergers & Acquisitions Paulie trying to get the old bats at his Mom’s nursing home, to “play nice” is a hoot. Though Tony’s relationship with Valentina is not very entertaining.
- Joe Pantoliano really gets to shine and give Ralph some new dimensions when his son is hurt in the bow n arrow accident. nd then his final fight with Tony in the kitchen may be the best moment of violence in the entire run of the show.
- It’s horrifying watching poor grief stricken Bobby Bacala slowly get swallowed by Janice.
- The final episode of the season, 13 Whitecaps is brilliant. Tony and Carmela’s domestic problems and their final throw-down is riveting.
- We jump ahead in time, Janice has managed to marry widower Bobby and more disturbing she is trying to be a mother to his two kids.
- Nice to see character-actor Robert Loggia pop-up as the fresh-outta-the-can Feech. In real life, apparently he was having problems remembering his lines and is killed off earlier then Producer David Chase intended.
- Tony and Carmela’s life breakup continues to be painful, moving, pathetic and often very amusing.
- Occasional episode director Steve Buscemi takes a break from offbeat flicks and shows up as this seasons guest antagonist for Tony, Tony B, Tony S's beloved cousin.
He kinda works and he kinda doesn’t. His acting is great and is jealousy towards Tony is reasonable. But his dream of becoming a massage therapist feels forced and by now we know the pattern, he won’t be around longer then a season or two.
- Hilarious: Episode 1 Two Tony's Tony watches a little of the weepy The Prince of Tides in which Barbra Streisand miscast herself as a heroic shrink.
- Back in the day, it was known that Drea de Matteo had been cast in the upcoming Friends spin-off , the over-hyped and eventually unwatchable Joey. So her doomed fate was inevitable, but half the fun of watching this season the first time around was waiting to see how poor Adriana would get offed.
- Episode 3: Where's Johnny? Good stuff with Feech and Paulie fighting over neighborhood lawn cutters. The battle between Tony and Johnny Sack starts to heat up and is the main conflict for the season, it’s fascinating.
- Hilarious: Junior mistakes himself and Bobby for Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David and Jeff Garlin.
- Carmela fling with A.J.’s guidance counselor (David Straitharn) is fascinating and a little heartbreaking.
- A.J. moving in with Tony and Artie Bucco works great. And Tony finally flipping out on his bowl of cereal is a terrific scene.
- Episode 5 Irregular Around the Margins Adriana and Tony bottled up sexual tension leads to a car accident and Christopher freaking out. A great episode.
- Meadow's boyfriend Finn often plays like the eyes of the audience (as least for me). You wonder what would I do if I were him, like when he tries to pay the restaurant tab with Tony. And his icky encounters on the construction site with Vito.
- Episode 10 Cold Cuts was directed by Mike Figgis (Leaving Los Vegas).
Though the Janice as psychopathic soccer mom was a bit too much. The final scene where Tony lays into her is a gem.
- Episode 11 The Test Dream. Another lame extended dream sequence.
- But Episode 12 Long Term Parking makes up for it.
Bye-bye sexy Adriana, a powerful last scene for her. You can see Tony B’s bye-bye coming soon (his death and the after effect are well done).
Carmela basically charges Tony $600,000, to get back together with her.
SEASON SIX, PART ONE AND PART TWO:
- Tony’s coma story is great. Seeing how each character reacts is fascinating and often moving. Paulie’s greed is amusing.
- Silvio finally getting his time to act as the boss is great to see.
- Episode 2 Join The Club - Another lame-ass extended dream sequence.
- Phil Leotardo has a great arc and really becomes a memorable player in the story.
- Episode 5 Mr. & Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request Great stuff as Johnny Sacks leaves jail for the day to go to his daughter’s wedding. And his eventual health decline is played beautifully. Who the hell is this actor Vincent Curatola? He is really interesting & make a lot of unpredictable choices with his mannerisms.
- Sidney Pollack pops up perfectly as a ex doctor inmate.
- Vito is spotted in a gay-leather bar and now the epic journey of Vito begins. This major new thread is often fascinating, his dealing with his own family. After he is killed two great moments of old-school in the new world happen as Frank and then Tony try to talk to Vito’s disturbed makeup wearing Goth son.
But Vito’s stay in Twin Peaks NH feels fake, especially his relationship with the conveniently hunky pancake-flipping/ fireman. Talk about a (gay) male fantasy. I mean the show often pushes the limits as countless hot babes throw themselves at fat Tony. But Tony is a man of power and wealth. Why some nice single muscle dude would fall for disgustingly obese and charmless Vito is far from believable.
- Episode 7 Luxury Lounge A silly story line with Christopher in Hollywood to meet Ben Kingsley, but the theft of Lauren Bacall‘s gift-bag s priceless, as is Tony’s reaction to all the loot.
- Episode 9 The Ride has a great flashback showing what happened when Christopher told Tony that Adriana was talking to the Feds.
- Speaking of which Christopher’s new girlfriend and then wife Kelli (Cara Buono) is maybe the prettiest of all the actresses to pop up in the show.
Surprisingly, Christopher’s movie, Cleaver actually works for me, because the film is clearly terrible, a straight to cable piece of junk. But it’s not inept, it’s believable, unlike the movies made in the lame satires For Your Consideration and Bowfinger.
I had forgotten about Christopher’s death and was shocked by it. The relief it brought Tony, wonderfully plays against the usual TV clichés.
- A.J.’s depression over his break up with his fiancé is completely believable and very well played by Robert Iler. His character’s arc in the last season really gives him some nice moments especially with Tony’s inability to understand him.
- Part Two of the season begins with Soprano Home Movies. Bobby and Tony's drunken fist fight is one of the best moments of the season.
- The show heads to a brilliant conclusion. Part 2 Episode 8 The Blue Comet as deaths pile up and the gang goes to the mattresses.
- Part Two Episode 9 Made in America. The controversial final scene worked perfectly for me.
It creates a artificial tension, something’s coming... and then pow!... Blackout.
Fascinating that they end it in a traditional diner and not Artie’s restaurant. It’s rather symbolic of them never really being able to blend in with the rest of American culture (and what life would be like in Witness Protection).
I’m glad they didn’t go out with say, a Best Of...Clip Show ala Seinfeld or overly sentimental like the final M*A*S*H*.
Nope. The Sopranos ended like it started, bold, original, frustrating and surprising.