Top 5 Episodes: The Sopranos – Season 1
It’s the mid-nineties and television writer/producer David Chase is shopping around an idea for a new series: A mob boss based in New Jersey who has to go to a therapist to cope with his life and all the events that entails.
Fast forward to early 1999 and HBO premiere’s The Sopranos. James Gandolfini stars as the lead character, Tony Soprano. Surrounded by a stellar cast, the world watched as Tony learned to cope with his ever-complicated life.
The Sopranos would go on to be one of HBO’s marquee shows, and is still an example of some of the best television of all-time. The very mature themes the show dealt with, (and showed in abundance) was unprecedented for the time, and set the trend for much of the television that followed it.
Since there are only thirteen episodes, we’re going to countdown the Top 5 Episodes of The Sopranos – Season 1.
***Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching!!***
5. I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano
Alright. Uncle Junior had his shot (pun intended.) Now it’s Tony’s turn.
Plenty of retribution is handed out in this one. Tony himself is almost the victim of some courtesy of Artie. Livia is still up to her tricks and tips the restaurant owner that Tony was responsible for the fire that burned down Artie’s prized possession back in the Pilot episode. Once again, Tony is on the spot and has to work quickly to avoid taking a bullet to the face.
Many of the ongoing story lines in season one are wrapped up here, and in an odd form of irony it’s Artie’s new restaurant that is the savior for Tony and his family during a heavy rainstorm. It’s a nice (rare) calm moment to end the season as we see much of the characters we’ve gotten to know enjoying a quiet night by candlelight.
This is where it all begins.
We meet Tony Soprano, a member of a New Jersey crime family who is suffering from panic attacks and now has to go see a therapist. Through his discussions with her we learn about what is going on in his life, meet his family…and his other Family.
There is a lot going on. A family of ducks that have been living in his pool for the last while have all grown up and decided to fly off, leaving Tony with a feeling of abandonment and loss. Tony’s Uncle is planning to have a guy taken out at one of Tony’s good friends’ restaurant, which would ruin its reputation and destroy his friend’s business. His teenage daughter is going through her own melodrama, his nephew Christopher is questioning his place in the Family, and to top it all off his mother Livia is unable to live on her own yet is vehemently resisting moving into a retirement home. It’s no wonder this guy is having panic attacks.
The audience quickly realizes these are all incredibly complex – and real – characters; full of depth with layers upon layers yet to be explored. The episode is only about an hour long, but has all the feel of a full two-hour feature. The dialogue is snappy and rich and they aren’t afraid to use expletives when necessary. The casting couldn’t have been done any better, with each actor and actress instantly bringing believability to their parts. The relationship between Tony and his mother Livia leads you to instantly sympathize with Tony’s position.
It’s hard to believe that there were actual doubts by some upon completion of the episode if this show would ever get developed into a series. Considering it is one of the better pilot episodes in all of television history – there is zero surprise this show went on to have all the success that it did.
3. Denial, Anger, Acceptance
Plenty of things happening here.
Tony agrees to help a local hotel owner in dealing with a son-in-law, Charmaine Bucco has something to tell Carmela that she won’t like, and Meadow is looking to get her hands on some speed to help her and her friend cope with the SAT’s and school.
The topper of the episode has to go to the ending. Borrowing from The Godfather films, here we see the juxtaposition of a brutal act next to something beautiful. The cutting between Meadow’s school concert as they sing “All Through the Night” and Uncle Junior’s actions works perfectly. You could feel sorry for Brendan Filone…but then again, he had it coming. Unfortunately for Tony, not everything is as peaceful as he appears to be. Carmela quickly withdraws her hand from Tony’s grasp, and unbeknownst to her parents, Meadow and her friend Hunter are high on drugs during the concert.
The penultimate episode of season one where the hit on Tony is finally attempted through Junior’s orders.
Tony is having a rough time and highly medicated, leading to some interesting scenes that will have one wondering what is real and what isn’t. How coincidental and ultimately life-saving is it that Christopher (while tailing Tony) just happens to block in his potential assassins the first time around? (One could also wonder when finally given the chance how can the hit-men possibly miss from that distance?)
Does Junior really have the stomach for this whole Boss thing? Cowering in the backseat of a car and throwing up certainly must have him wondering if this is worth it.
Arguably among the best episodes in the entire run of The Sopranos.
On the outset the story is pretty simple, as there are only two narratives going on: Tony is taking around Meadow to check out potential colleges and thinks he’s spotted a rat from the past, and Father Phil visits a home-alone Carmela where things verge on getting a little friendly between the two.
“College” personifies the mantra of the show almost perfectly as Tony is trying to balance his responsibilities to both families simultaneously. This installment also has the advantage of almost being a standalone episode, where virtually everything going on here has no bearing on the rest of the season. We get the suspense of Tony and his target stalking each other interwoven with the mounting sexual tension arising between Father Phil and Carmela.
Having Meadow bluntly asking her father if he’s in the Mafia isn’t making things any easier for Tony either. He knows his daughter is catching on, and can continue to fool her for only so long. I guess the more you lie the better and quicker you become at it, because the explanations Tony provides for Meadow’s questions near the end of the show come flying out of him without an ounce of hesitation.
Carmela goes for the win at the end with a perfect comeback for Tony when he begins to question what he’s hearing regarding Father Phil’s sleepover. Perfect score on execution!