Looking back on ‘The Sopranos’ 20 years later

Imitated and parodied so much, it’s almost impossible to remember – or overstate – the show’s impact

The Sopranos (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Sopranos
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It started with a mobster going to his first appointment with a psychiatrist and telling her that he had a panic attack because some ducks left his backyard, and it ended when the screen suddenly went black, the most talked-about finale in television history.
It’s been 20 years since The Sopranos – all the episodes of which are available on HOT VOD and YES VOD – debuted, and television has never been the same since. David Chase, the creator of the show, changed that unwritten rule that said TV was a poor cousin of the movies. The show’s 86 episodes – which were by turns fascinating, suspenseful, funny, repellent, ironic, bizarre, brilliant and surprising – raised the bar for television so high that every time we tune in today we are the beneficiaries of the standard Chase set.
The Sopranos has been imitated and parodied so much over the past two decades, it’s almost impossible to remember – or overstate – the impact it had. Without The Sopranos, there would be no Breaking Bad, no Mad Men (its creator, Matthew Weiner, got his big break as a writer on The Sopranos), and no The Americans, to mention just three shows it influenced.
In a Vanity Fair interview just before the last episode aired in 2007, Chase said, “Even though it’s a Mob show, The Sopranos is based on members of my family. It’s about as personal as you can get.”
And it was the characters, rather than any Mafia action, that made the show a classic.
Thinking back on it, I doubt anyone will remember much about Tony (James Gandolfini) and his crew’s feuds with Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) or Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola). What stays in your mind are the human moments, the situations you can relate to.
YOU’LL REMEMBER the conflicts and kindnesses between Tony and Carmela (Edie Falco) during their deeply flawed but very real marriage; the descent of Tony’s son, A.J. (Rober Iler), from shiftless kid to suicidal young adult; Tony’s sessions with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), who gets him to sift through the mess of his childhood and come to the realization that his own mother (Nancy Marchand) tried to have him whacked; the whiny tension between Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Adriana (Drea de Matteo) and its tragic denouement; Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), Tony’s daughter, and her alternate acceptance and denial of her father’s mobster identity.
Throughout the series, the dream sequences – usually nightmares – rivaled any ever put on screen.
Many critics have compiled a list of the 10 best episodes, but I found it impossible to narrow it down to so few.
Perhaps the single best-known episode is Pine Barrens (season 3, episode 11), directed by actor Steve Buscemi, in which Paulie (Tony Sirico) and Christopher get lost in the woods overnight, freezing in their tight, unlined leather jackets and loafers, after a Russian they thought they had killed turned out to be alive. It’s a gem of absurdist humor that has drawn comparisons to Waiting for Godot.
In College (season 1, episode 5), Tony takes Meadow on a college trip to Maine and murders an informant he runs into there.
My personal favorite moment came in The Knight in White Satin Armor (season 2, episode 12), where Tony’s sister, Janice (Aida Turturro), guns down her fiancée, Richie Aprile (David Proval), after he hits her. Putting her on a bus back to the West Coast, Tony says, “All in all, though, I’d say it was a pretty good visit,” and she responds, “What’s wrong with our family, Tony?”
The acting was so good it was hard to believe it was acting. The late James Gandolfini gave one of the greatest performances of all time – in any medium – in the lead role. 
Whether you’ve seen all the episodes and remember every word, or have never watched the show – see it now. There’s nothing better on and there never will be.
Another series that was certainly influenced by the graphic violence, bleak worldview and focus on power and succession on The Sopranos is Game of Thrones, and it was just announced that its final season will begin airing on April 14. Or, to put it another way, winter is coming – in spring.