The Reviews – The Sopranos Season 1

Previously on….

Sopranos creator David Chase was a executive producer for Northern Exposure, and supervising producer and writer for a few Rockford Files TV movies. James Gandolfini had a number of small roles in movies like 8mm, True Romance, Get Shorty and Crimson Tide. Lorraine Bracco was in The Basketball Diaries, Hackers, and most famously in Goodfellas as Karen Hill. Edie Falco had a number of short stints on shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street, New York Undercover, and Law & Order. You could find Dominic Chianese in Godfather 2, Dog Day Afternoon, and All the President’s Men. Nancy Marchand was Fraiser Crane’s mom on Cheers, and the Mayor that had to deal with Dt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun. Michael Imperioli was shot in the foot by Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas, and he also had roles in Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Bad Boys, Clockers, and Dead Presidents. Steven Van Zandt was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Tony Sirico was a legit wiseguy for the Colombo crime family, and was arrested twenty-eight times. Vincent Pastore was the guy pushing a coatrack in Goodfellas. And Drea de Matteo was not doing much, maybe dreaming about one day being in a “Friends” spin-off called Joey, which happened to later turn into a nightmare.

Then in 1999, all these actors and producer found themselves beginning to work on a show for HBO called The Sopranos.

The Plot

Tony Soprano is a man caught in the middle of two families. One of the two is his family at home, with his wife Carmella Soprano, and his kids AJ Soprano, and Meadow Soprano. And then he has his other family. Tony is a Capo for the DiMeo crime family in New Jersey, which is headed by acting boss Jackie Aprile. Another capo for the DiMeo crime family is Tony’s uncle Junior Soprano, who has his eyes on the top position of the family. While things are never easy for the relationship between Junior and Tony, they do have love for each other, and frequently reminisce about playing baseball when Tony was a kid.

Acting boss Jackie Aprile had been diagnosed with Cancer, and as the illness grew stronger, the stability at top of the family grew weaker. Chaos within the family was starting to build, which included a member of Tony’s close circle Christopher Moltisanti and friend Brandon Filone stealing a truck filled with DVD players that were owned by Junior. After peace was made at a sit down between Tony, Junior and Jackie, and the agreement that the truck would be returned to Junior,  Christopher and Brandon were not happy with what they perceived to be a sign of disrespect. With Christopher backing out at the last minute, Brandon went forward and stole another truck full of expensive suits. With that, Junior decided to send a message that he is not to be messed with, and killed Brandon, and gave Christopher a mock execution.

Around the same time, Jackie Aprile had passed away, and a new leader was needed. Tony made the decision to give Junior the title of Boss, bringing peace to the family, as well as using Junior as the lightening rod for the FBI, but it would be Tony making major decisions behind Junior’s back. The rest of the Capo’s in the family agreed to this plan. And while everything was not fantastic due to Junior’s selfish behavior, it worked out as planned when the FBI started to make their presence felt. In the end, Junior, as well as a few of his associates and another Capo, were arrested. The feds attempted to flip Junior, and admit that Tony was the real boss of the family, which would help build a case against Johnny Sack from New York. Junior though stuck with the rules of the business, and gave the feds nothing.

Tony during this time period is also dealing with some serious mother issues, as he decided that the best thing for his mother, Livia Soprano, would be to move her into a retirement community. His mother though was very much against this idea, and was a master manipulator who made Tony feel very guilty for what he was trying to do. With the various pressures coming from his home life, his work, and his mother, Tony begun to experience Panic Attacks and passed out on a number of occasions. To deal with this issue, Tony started to see a psychiatrist named Jennifer Melfi. Dr. Melfi was very sure that a lot of problems for Tony came from his own Mother, but for the majority of the time, Tony did not believe this. He was though convinced his mother needed to go to a retirement community, after Livia ran over a friend with her car, and almost burned down her home. Livia was not happy about Tony putting her there, and also for selling her home, and with that anger she made life difficult for Tony. Once she had learned about Tony seeing a shrink, she used that information to convince Junior that Tony was leaking information to the shrink, which Junior feared was then heading to the Feds. In addition, she mentioned that all of the Capos were meeting at the retirement community behind Juniors back. With Livia’s full knowledge, Junior decided to take a hit out on Tony.

Tony was in a serious bout of depression when the attempt on his life took place. Luckily for him, he was able to survive this incident, and with the help of the Feds, who provided wire tap recordings of Livia and Junior discussing the intention to take Tony’s life, Tony knew who was behind it. The Feds were hoping to have Tony become a witness for them, and hoped the tapes would show that Tony could have a better life elsewhere. What he wanted though was revenge, and with his associates Christopher, Silvo Dante and Paulie Gualtieri, Tony took out members of Juniors crew which included Juniors right hand man Mickey P. Before Tony could get to Junior, the Feds had stepped in and arrested the acting boss of the family. With Junior arrested, this now leaves Tony as the official boss of the family. Tony also made sure to let his own mother know that he was on to her.

Then we had Tony’s home life, as his two kids were coming to that time in life when you find out what daddy REALLY does for a living. While Tony and Carmela dealt with the kids being old enough to know what the “garbage business” meant, Carmela was turning to religion to help her deal with the evils of her husband’s work, as well as her husband’s mistresses.

We also saw a member of Tony’s crew, Pussy Bonpensiero, as well as capo Jimmy Altieri arrested on gun charges. Both were released, but due to some inside information Tony received, he believed that Pussy had flipped to the feds. After a confrontation between Pussy and Paulie in regards to this matter, Pussy disappeared for the remainder of the season. It was discovered that the inside information Tony received was incorrect (this is season one remember, not season two) and it was actually Jimmy who was wired. With that knowledge, Silvo took out Jimmy Altieri and left his body in an alley with a rat stuffed in his mouth.

The Review

First things first, I have to say that I think the Sopranos has the best opening credits sequence in television history. Sure it’s long (perhaps longest ever opening credits), but unless I am in a rush, I always take that trip with Tony from New York to his home in Jersey. “Got yourself a gun” is a great track that always finds time in the rotation on my Ipod.

When The Sopranos first came out, it looked like nothing more then a “Analyze This” rip-off. That was a movie in the 90’s starring Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro, and was about a mobster who visited a shrink. While the therapy plotline played a major factor in this TV show, the writers of “Analyze This” could only dream about writing something as good as The Sopranos. Everything about this show, from it’s writing, acting and directing, was top notch. And while the therapy story line was a slight risk from a creative standpoint, due to the association of “Analyze This”, for me, it was the Livia Soprano story that was a bigger risk. A mobsters mother having such a major impact on the plot for season one could seem very silly to those who have never watched this before. But once we discover that Livia was about as evil as any mobster could ever dream about being, it became a joy to watch everything that the character was involved in. Add in the fact that actress Nancy Marchand was able to mix in quite a bit of humor with her character, we then had a story that did not bring the show down a notch, but did the exact opposite.

While the characters in the show mentioned Godfather frequently during the season, it clearly was Goodfellas that was a major inspiration. Just like how Goodfellas was very careful to be accurate in it’s portrayal of the mob, you would have thought that The Sopranos was written on the side by people who were knee-deep in the middle of it. In fact, David Chase and his creative team did actually reach out to ex-mobsters during the writing of this show, to ensure that what was being portrayed on the Sopranos was something that would be accurate to how the real life mob operated. Just like how Goodfellas was a fascinating movie due to the accuracy, same applies to the Sopranos.

But my enjoyment was not limited to the mob storyline. Well, I guess it was sorta mob related, but anyhow…. I really enjoyed watching the Soprano kids come to terms with the fact that their father was a mobster. Seeing kids scared of AJ at school because of who his dad was, or Meadow using her knowledge of her dads life against him in the number of arguments they had, was always great entertainment. I enjoyed Carmella as well, although I did have a minor issue with her which I will mention in a moment.

If your looking for a fast paced television show, this is not for you. It’s more of a slow burn. The various storylines were built up over the course of the 13 episodes, and the show would take it’s time in doing so. I appreciate this method as I enjoy small character moments and conversations just as much as I do in mob hits and plot resolutions. But be forewarned that it’s not fast paced at all. You want fast paced, go to my “24” reviews (coming soon).

For the positive side of this show, let me finish off by mentioning just how great all these characters are! Junior, Silvo and Paulie, Christopher and Adriana, even Artie Bucco….ALL fantastic characters. I could name many more, but I don’t have the time. BUT, of course I do have to mention the main man Tony Soprano. A one of a kind main character. I don’t think the world had ever seen a main character portrayed as a killing, cheating, angry, violent CROOK before. I could be wrong of course, but regardless Tony Soprano is a one of a kind. As evil as he can be, and make no mistakes folks, he can be evil, but no matter what you love him. He is your hero. Every minute of screen time that deals with Tony is fantastic. And I attribute that directly to the performance of James Gandolfini. Because, while the writing is great, and directing is great, and the plot developments are fascinating, Tony is a character you watch not just for what he is saying…but for how he says it. How he reacts to what is being said to him. His motions, and facial expressions. This is a sign of great acting. And that is exactly what we received with the main character of The Sopranos.

Negatives? Not many to be honest. I guess I can say that while I was fine with the slow burn pace of the season, their was moments that were too slow, like the episode “A hit is a hit”. While not a BAD episode per say, it was not a great stand alone episode (a gangster rapper wants respiration from one of Tony’s associates named Hesh, and Adriana and Chris attempted to produce a rock album) and it did very little to forward the overall story lines of the season. I never skip over this episode when watching the season, but I always know that when this episode is next up, that I am about to watch one of the weaker installments of Sopranos season one.

And another negative for me is the priest. I mentioned before that I had an issue with Carmela, and it stems from her search in religion for guidance in regards to her guilt. I appreciate the point behind this, but I am not a very religious guy myself, so I was somewhat bored with anything involving the priest during the season. Perhaps you might have appreciated this more than I did, but I was always waiting for the Priest scenes to end so that we could get back to something else.

Besides that, a fantastic first season to a fantastic show.

Top 5 Episodes

5. College – I think you might find this episode higher on other peoples top 5 list, but for me, while certainly a great episode, I do have four others that I enjoyed more. And the main reason is that this episode was the main Carmela/Father Phil episode of the season, where a good part of the episode was devoted to them. AGAIN, I am not saying it was bad, just for me not great. What was great though was Tony trying to deal with finding a rat in Maine, and having his daughter with him. As was the entire Tony/Meadow conversation that started with “Are you in the mafia?”

4. Denial, Anger, Acceptance – This episode was the one that REALLY got the ball rolling on The Sopranos. We got a fun stand aloneish story with Sil, Paulie and Tony trying to get the son in law of a hotel owner to agree to a divorce with no compensation. This was our first good look at the characters of Silvo and Paulie, and we know just how classic those two have become now that the series is over. We got a fun story with Meadow and her friend trying to score drugs from Christopher, which would continue into the next episode “Meadowlands”. And we got the first big action of the season with Junior, under the guidance of Livia, sending a message to Christopher and taking out Brandon Malone. GREAT final sequence for this episode.

3. Isabella – I found the Isabella scenes here a bit dry, but besides that…GOLD. Hey, it was the episode where someone tried to take out Tony. That’s huge. How can this not be good? I loved the music and the entire sequence with Tony literally dodging the bullet. The attempt on his life was all that was needed to wake him up out of his funk. Why number 3? Again, not a big fan of the Isabella stuff.

2. Down Neck – I am not sure if you guys will feel this episode like I did, but I loved this one. This was all about Tony being concerned that his son is going to turn out like him, and we get a look back at Tony’s childhood. It’s hard to explain why I liked this episode so much, but the Melfi/Tony scenes I think were some of the seasons best because of how powerful they were. No, they weren’t big plot revelations happening during the conversations, but the concerns that Tony had about his son and how he was trying to deal with those concerns, and the look back at the child hood Tony had, and how his mother and father were when Tony was a kid…. I just loved it! And truthfully it is very close to taking number one. Again, I am not sure if everyone will agree, but this episode worked for me big time.

1. I dream of Jeannie Cusamano – Everything built up to this one. The one thing I don’t think anyone can disagree with is that the Sopranos really knew how to deliver a season finale. And this one is no exception. Jimmy Altieri taken out. Chucky Signore taken out (the dude on the boat). Mikey P. taken out. It was the FBI who tipped off Tony about his mother and Junior being behind the hit on Tony’s life. The FBI arrest Junior and a few other guys. Melfi goes on the run. And in the end, Tony becomes the official Boss of the Soprano family. So much great stuff packed into one hour of television, and the amazing thing, and why this one is so good…IT NEVER FEELS RUSHED! Great ending to season one.

Top Moments

– Tony’s first time picking up the  newspaper from the curb
– Tony and Chris beating up Muhaffy outside of the Insurance building
– Silvio’s Pacino impression (“Just when I thought I was out…”)
– Instead of appearing like he was in on it, the truck driver asks Chris and Brandon to tie him up and give him a beating
-Livia’s reaction after the housekeeper leaves (“What happened?” “Beats me”)
– Silvo and Paulie’s first attempt to get the son in law to accept the divorce. Great use of the hotel bell
– Carmela calling over Charmaine Bucco like she calls over the maid
– Tony bringing Jackie a stripper in the hospital
– Brandon shot in the bathtub
– Christopher freaks out at Meadow in the car about the drugs he gave her, and how Tony possibly knows
– Tony and Junior face off over Brandon’s death in the restaurant
– Tony with the axe scaring the dad of the kid who fought AJ in school
– Tony gives Junior his blessing for Junior to become the boss
– Meadow asking Tony if he was in the mafia
– Tony kills the rat in Maine
– Juniors banquet to honor him as the new boss, and the introduction of the FBI into the story. (Let me just mention that this might be my ultimate favorite one, because I am a hip hop fan, and I LOVED the use of Xzibit’s “Paparrazi” track at the end of this scene)
– Family dinner at the Sopranos and talking about AJ’s suspension from school
– Tony’s “White Rabbit” flashback to the 60’s, and seeing his dad work
– Livia finding out Tony goes to therapy from AJ
– Melfi’s reaction to the name “Pussy”
– Tony watching his dad get arrested
– The crew getting the news about the indictments at Larry Boy Barese’s daughter’s wedding
– Goodfellas reference when Christopher shoots the kid in the foot (“It happens”)
– Tony hiding money and guns at his moms retirement home
– Tony getting mad at Chris about the shooting the guy in the foot thing
– The Sopranos talk famous Italians
– Silvo yelling at the soccer ref
– Tony’s golf story about John Gotti owning an ice cream truck for Cuzamotto and friends (“He rang that bell all the home”)
– Dr. Mop-n-Glow
– Paulies Godfather car horn
– Paulie checking for a wire on Pussy
– Mikey P shoots Donny while Junior hides in the back seat of the car
– The attempted hit on Tony
– The death of Jimmy the Rat
– Tony freaks out at Melfi for suggesting that Tony’s mother was behind the hit
– FBI playing the tapes for Tony
– Tony tells Melfi to get out of town
– Arti confronts Tony about burning down the restaurant
– The death of Mickey P
– Tony confronts Livia in the hospital (“She’s Smiling!”)
– FBI tries to flip Junior

A few quotes

Tony Soprano: Uncle Junior and I, we had our problems with the Business. But I never should have razzed him about eating p—-. This whole war could have been averted. Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this.
U.S. Attorney: Your tenure as boss was a short one. Actually, it was unusual in several ways. Let me put this to you as simply as I can. You can avoid sentencing on these charges if you will testify that in fact, you were not the boss of North Jersey, that in fact, your nephew Anthony Soprano was and is. That he de facto controlled your capos with the backing of two of the New York families communicating through their emissary, John Sacrimoni. We want Johnny Sack. But more than him, we want Mangano and Teresi.
Silvio Dante: You’re only as good as your last envelope.
Uncle Junior: Take it easy. We’re not making a western here.
Tony Soprano: I’m in the waste management business. Everybody immediately assumes you’re mobbed up. It’s a stereotype, and it’s offensive.
Mickey P: Go take a Midol

Season MVP

I hate to be predictable here, but it’s obviously the boss himself, Tony Soprano. And I think the reasons are obvious as well. He is this show. As great as everyone is, this is his show. SO, in the interest of giving you something interesting, I will let you know who comes in second place for MVP voting… Livia Soprano. Seriously. I know she is not in the season TONS, certainly not as much as other characters on the show, but she is the driving force behind a lot of major plot developments (why Tony’s in therapy, the hits on Brandon, and attempted hit on Tony). And I think another reason that she is in second place is that the actress playing Livia really delivered some very funny moments for this show. Her reactions and her mind games were both messed up and really funny. (Just for the record, it was her and Junior neck and neck for second place)

The Final Word

I think it’s obvious from reading this what I feel about this show, and about this season. This is arguably the best season from this show, and this show ranks as my #2 of all time. If you dig movies like Godfather and Goodfellas, it’s a pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy this one. Maybe you won’t have it #2 all-time, but you will definitely enjoy. But then again, if you dig movies like Godfather and Goodfellas, I am sure you have already watched this season about 15 times like I have.

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About theprogram101
From reading this everyday, you should get an idea about me.

One Response to The Reviews – The Sopranos Season 1

  1. Darwin Sinclair says:

    “When The Sopranos first came out, it looked like nothing more then a “Analyze This” rip-off. That was a movie in the 90′s starring Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro, and was about a mobster who visited a shrink.”

    It’s obvious that you have no idea what you’re blathering about. The Sopranos premiered in January 1999 while Analysis This premiered in March 1999. If anything, it seemed like Analysis This was a parody of the Sopranos. Since you didn’t write this review until a decade after season 1 of the Sopranos, it’s obvious that you were very late to the party.

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