The Sopranos: Season 1 (1999)

DVD Cover (HBO Studios)
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Overall Rating 92%
Overall Rating
Ranked #328
...out of 14,101 movies
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Connections: The Sopranos

The story of New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano and the difficulties he faces as he tries to balance the conflicting requirements of his home life and the criminal organization he heads. Those difficulties are often highlighted through his ongoing professional relationship with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi. The show features Tony's family members and Mafia associates in prominent roles and story arcs, most notably his wife Carmela and his cousin and protégé Christopher Moltisanti. --TMDb
Review by Chad
Added: August 04, 2010
It's taken me a long time to get around to watching The Sopranos, but Jesus, am I glad that I did. I never had anything against the show, it's just that I saw a few random episodes on TV while flipping through the channels and the show seemed... "decent" would be one word for it. "A good time-killer" would be another way of putting it, but something that I'd want to track down and watch from beginning to end? Not quite. However, this season at the very least completely demolished that outlook, as starting from the beginning and getting a good feel for the characters and situations makes this one of my favorite shows of all time. I'm only one season in so I'm not going to commit to that statement just yet, but if it stays this good, I certainly will be.

The storyline is simple, and it focuses on Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family: wife Carmela (Edie Falco), son A.J. (Robert Iler), daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), mother Livia (Nancy Marchand), and Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). It also focuses on his other family, that being the New Jersey slice of the mafia. Yes, Tony is a capo (boss), and with the help of Salvatore 'Big Pussy' Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore), Silvio Dante (Steve Van Zandt), Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri (Tony Sirico), and Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), Tony makes a pretty damned good living for his family.

The thing is, Tony has a lot going on in his life. His mother is becoming a bitter old lady who can't care for herself any longer, his marriage is on the rocks, and there's more problems in "the biz" than you could shake a stick at. The head boss is dying of cancer, Junior is poised to take that title when he passes, Tony and Junior don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, and there are indictments in the works. Suffice it to say that this is not a good time to be high up on the mafia totem pole. Tony decides to see psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) to help him work through his problems, and these conversations coupled with Tony's day-to-day life set the stage for the first season.

I had a limited exposure to this show before sitting down with it, and I was under the impression that it was just going to be a gangster show - you know, lots of "whacking", violence, illegal activity, that sort of thing. I have no problem with that kind of entertainment, and in fact, I was looking forward to that sort of thing. However, the mafia business is not the true focus of the show, in this season at least: the real emphasis is on Tony Soprano, the man, and his family life. Truth be told, there's really not a lot of major plot points dealing with the mafia; I mean, it's certainly there and there are some major events involving it, but this season felt more like an introduction to the characters and their lifestyles than a true "gangster" show. Personally, I felt that this approach worked damned well, and I can't wait to see where they went with these characters in season two.

Since the characters are the main emphasis, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well they were written. They are stereotypical Italian mobsters to an extent, this much is true, but only to a certain extent: one could easily point to this scene or that episode and slap down the stereotype card, but for the most part, these characters are refreshingly realistic. Take, for example, the reaction amongst the crime bosses when they discover that an adult had sex with one of their teenage daughters - you're probably thinking that he received a slow torture before being fed to the fishes, right? That's not how it works, at all. I was blown away by how well these characters were written and how the writers tried to avoid falling into the same old clichés throughout the season.

I also loved the way that the writers didn't fall into the "end every episode on a cliff-hanger" trap that most television shows do. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I know why they do it, but that doesn't make me enjoy it. The Sopranos does not do that, and thus, one can easily watch a single episode or the entire series in one sitting - there is no cliff-hanger that forces you to keep going or spend the next couple of days wondering what will happen. This may not be a big deal to some, but personally, that little touch went a long way in my overall enjoyment.

It really is the little things that take the show from "great" to "fantastic." I can't dedicate a paragraph to giving the show praise for the subtle humor that is prevalent, but it's there. I can't go on at length about the countless references to the classic mobster movies, but again, they're there. The soundtrack also receives a huge thumbs up, with a nice blend of classical, pop, dance, and alternative. There are tons of little "seeds" planted throughout the season that I assume will "sprout" later on, little storyline nuggets that - had the series ended here - wouldn't have left anyone complaining about a lack of closure, but will provide some great storyline arcs later on in the next couple of seasons.

At this rate, The Sopranos will easily find a spot high up in my "favorite television series" list. Great acting, great characters, great writing, great... everything, all topped off with plenty of attention paid to the minor details that make a show so engaging. I couldn't find a single fault with this, so I think that the 10/10 should go without saying.
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