The Sopranos (Season 1)
Starring James Gandolfini
Created by David Chase

My Rating:

Now that's good television!

Bitable Bytes:
"Genuinely Gripping!"
"Addictive as Any Narcotic!"
"Great Acting!"
"I Didn't Stop Watching until I Ran out of Tape!"

What to do while watching:
The agita will keep you on the edge of your strombolio.

What to eat while watching:
Comboli con frippitachia with shifoffa on the side.

It's times like this, friends, that I feel a little like Jackie Harvey, the clueless gossip columnist in The Onion. I'm about to say something that many people already know: The Sopranos is a really good show.

I'm not a cable owner. I don't like spending a lot of time in front of the tube, and when I do, I like to watch movies: new and old, domestic and foreign, all styles, all genres--I like movies. Given these facts--no HBO and no interest in TV--it's no wonder that I never saw this series before it wound up at the local library where I could borrow the entire set for free.

Well, gosh, did I get a surprise! These stories are genuinely gripping, and all are played with enough subtlety and uncertainty that, like a housewife to her soaps, I was sucked in to season one and didn't stop watching until I ran out of videotape. This series is as addictive as any narcotic, and the wife and I had some withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Eating pasta with homemade marinara sauce for eight meals in a row
  • Talking like gangsters at all hours and to everybody
  • Having our typically Jewish-style kvetching turn distinctly Sicilian

For those (like me) who didn't know, James Gandolfini stars in this series as Tony Soprano, a high boss in the Jersey mob. A loving father to a college-aged daughter and adolescent son and husband to a caring but touchy wife, he is facing greater and greater stress in juggling his suburban life with life in the mob, where he is required to garrote people, extort money, run rackets, and stuff like that. Basically, the guy's life is schizophrenic, and he is having a breakdown.

Though it goes against deep-seated Mafia taboos (the machismo imperative as well as the secrecy of illicit business), Tony S. starts to see a psychiatrist, one Dr. Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco. It's not an easy relationship, as you can guess. As a hotheaded criminal, he loses his temper with the patient doctor almost every episode. For her part, she digs her nails in to maintain her professionalism, but it's not easy. And just what is her fascination with mobsters anyway? What secret jollies is she deriving?

Meanwhile, Tony's mother, Livia, played by Nancy Marchand has her psychological meat-hooks deep into him. She is, hands down, the most conniving, back-stabbing, awful person I've ever seen portrayed. Great acting! You want to like the frowsy old woman in a normal TV series. Whatever happened to The Golden Girls? This character is fundamentally despicable.

Such a truth underscores the gray area of our affection for and identification with Tony himself. Like Dr. Melfi, we are privy to the tender and caring side of the family man. But we also see the violence that he causes, and we know that his wealth is ill-gotten. How different is he from someone like Bill Gates or Donald Trump, whose source of wealth is morally questionable, too? And can we like someone who we know is a murderer?

The daily-ness of the Soprano's life enriches these larger themes. It's interesting to watch mob protocols enacted. Uncle Junior, for example, becomes the head honcho because he is the senior Soprano, not because he controls the most rackets. Being a mob-boss in this day and age takes psychology and subtlety--and Prozac, apparently.

Rather than go too deeply into the many intertwined plots--several of which have not resolved by the end of season one--I would just recommend the entire series to any who have not seen it. As for me, I'm on to season two, new to video. If I'm incommunicado for a few days, you'll know why

ON A SIDE NOTE: Congratulations and kudos to the Big Empire, now faster and better than ever before. If you've missed recent reviews due to slow connections, you'll never have that problem again, and you can read all my reviews in my archives. Lately, I've reviewed Kikujiro, After Life, Shadow of the Vampire, and The Luzhin Defence. More to come. Let me know how you're enjoying the site. I love mail!

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For your collection: Sopranos 1st Season VHS, Sopranos 1st Season DVD

Gooden's listening to: Puccini's The Three Sopranos

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