WHAT IS The Sopranos ABOUT?
A gripping crime-drama series that centers around a troubled Italian-American mobster in New Jersey and his often-tumultuous relationships with a colorful array of family members — both personal and professional – who surround him as he struggles to balance his home life with his dealings in organized crime.
Original TV Home: HBO
Number Of Seasons: 6 (January 1999 – June 2007)
Total Episodes / Time Table: 86 Episodes (43 to 75 minutes each) = approx. 86 hours
Viewing Strategy: You can complete the entire series in 27 days. The first five seasons were made up of 13 episodes each, so you can watch those five seasons in 20 days by viewing three episodes per day and capping off the final viewing day of each season with an additional, finale episode. The sixth season had a total of 21 episodes that actually aired in a two-part rollout in 2006 (12 episodes) and 2007 (9 episodes). You can watch the entire sixth season in 7 days by taking in 3 episodes per day.
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WHO’S IN IT? Top
James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Toni Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, Jamie Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Dominic Chianese, Nancy Marchand, Vincent Pastore, Steve Schirripa. As the seasons progressed, the list of regulars, recurring actors and guest stars grew impressively and included such names as Steve Buscemi, Joe Pantoliano, Aida Turturro, Drea de Matteo, John Vantimiglia, Kathrine Narducci, Vincent Curatola, Sharon Angela, Jerry Adler, Maureen Van Zandt, Peter Bogdanovich, Frankie Valli, Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia, Michael Rispoli, Tim Daly, Patti D’Arbanville, Sofia Milos, Daniel Baldwin, Will Arnett, Matthew Weiner, Sandra Bernhard, Linda Lavin, Annete Bening, Nancy Sinatra, Ben Kingsley, Lauren Bacall and Julianna Margulies.
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WHERE IS IT NOW? Top
HBO.com / HBO GO, Amazon Prime / Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, iTunes, CraveTV. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray (each season available via individual box sets; all six seasons also available in one collective box set).
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WHY IS IT BINGE WORTHY? Top
A huge hit during its entire run, the saga of mob boss Tony Soprano was only the second drama series ever produced by HBO. (A prison drama called Oz was the first.) Some have called The Sopranos the best TV series ever made and the list of awards it won is huge, including 21 Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, two Peabody Awards and several Television Critics Association Awards.
The creative brainchild of executive producer David Chase, The Sopranos drew its inspiration from a combination of Chase’s fascination with the world of organized crime and his own family relationships and personal background as a New Jersey native. He originally intended to make it a movie but, with the help of producer Brad Grey, Chase ended up pitching the series to several TV networks before HBO bought in and financed a pilot episode. That episode, originally called Pilot and later retitled as The Sopranos, was actually shot in 1997, almost two years before HBO finally premiered the series.
Although 27 of the show’s cast members also appeared in a 1999 mobster movie called Goodfellas, most of the actors on the first season of The Sopranos were relatively unknown before the series premiered. James Gandolfini tops the cast in a strong stint as Tony Soprano, a man struggling with panic attacks caused by the stress of his job as a crime boss and the challenges of his home life with his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco), and their two kids, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler). Of course, Tony has plenty of other family issues, thanks at first to his crusty mother, Livia (Nancy Marchand), and, later on, his quirky sister, Janice (Aida Turturro).
Plenty of other colorful characters surround Tony at work, too, ranging from his father’s brother, Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano (Dominic Chianese), and his wife’s cousin/nephew, a crime-world up-and-comer named Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), to Tony’s two most loyal and dedicated work associates, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) and Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri (Tony Sirico). Rounding things out as the steadying influences in Tony’s life are his regular therapy sessions in the office of his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).
Times have changed since The Sopranos first aired. The series premiered a couple of years before the attacks of 9/11 and much of its social and political commentaries shift significantly in the seasons that surfaced afterward. The advancement of time is apparent in a couple of other ways, too. First, there’s the maturation of the Soprano kids (particularly A.J.) from children of the 1990s to young adults by the end of the series.
Perhaps most noticeable, though, is all the indoor smoking that takes place in bars, restaurants, cars, etc. That’s certainly not the way things are anymore.
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MUST SEES … Top
Opening Credits: The sequence that opens each episode is always enjoyable to watch, thanks in part to the theme song (Woke Up This Morning) that accompanies Tony Soprano’s car ride out of New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel, then through a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike and onward to his sprawling suburban New Jersey home. There is a brief shot that features a glimpse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in the car’s side-view mirror. The shot appears only during the first three seasons, however: it was removed from the credits starting in the fourth season, after the attacks of 9/11.
As for must-see episodes, check these out:
Pilot/The Sopranos (Season 1, Episode 1): The pilot episode sets the stage for a lot of the background for the entire series, including Tony’s first session with Dr. Melfi and his infatuation with a family of wild ducks that have taken a shining to his backyard swimming pool. The episode is one of only two episodes that were both written and directed by David Chase. The other one was ….
Made In America (Season 6, Episode 21): Also written and directed by Chase, it is the series finale – and it brings The Sopranos to a close with one of the most surprising and controversial enders in TV history. With Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ playing in the background, the final scene has Tony, Carmela, Meadow and A.J. gathering for a meal at Holsten’s Ice Cream Parlor. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the scene, the future of Tony and his family is suddenly left to everyone’s imagination.
Commendatori (Season 2, Episode 4): Tony, Paulie and Christopher head off to Italy to strike up some new business dealings. It’s a trip that inspires Paulie and almost destroys Christopher, thanks to a drug binge. The episode is also notable for a cameo appearance by David Chase, in a scene where Paulie calls out “Commendatori” to someone while sitting in a café.
Two Tonys (Season 5, Episode 1) and Stage 5 (Season 6, Episode 14): Both episodes feature a character named Manny Safier, an author and expert on the Mafia. The character is played by Matthew Weiner, who was an actual writer and, later, an executive producer on The Sopranos. He was much better known more recently, though, as the executive producer and creative mind behind Mad Men.
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MOST SHOCKING EPISODES Top
There are so many shocking mob “hits” throughout the series that they’re far too numerous to list. Plus, listing them would result in far too many spoilers.
There are a couple of notable moments, though:
Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Season 1, Episode 3): Upset by the actions of Christopher and a friend, Uncle Junior teaches them a lesson by arranging a fake hit on Christopher. Christopher’s friend, though, is not quite so lucky.
Isabella (Season 1, Episode 12): Tony becomes the target of an attempted hit that he later passes off as a foiled car-jacking. Without divulging too much, let’s just say that the incident proves to Tony that his friends are close and his enemies are even closer than he could have imagoined.
Funhouse (Season 2, Episode 13): The fate of Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) marks a major turning point after a secret of his is discovered.
Employee Of The Month (Season 3, Episode 4): Dr. Melfi gets raped in the stairwell of her office parking garage in one of the most brutal and disturbing scenes of the entire series.
Made In America (Season 6, Episode 21): As mentioned, the series finale has a closing sequence set to Journey’s hit song, Don’t Stop Believin’. When advance DVD screeners of the episode were made available to TV critics and others in the media prior to the telecast, many actually thought there was some sort of glitch on the screener. Not so.
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THAT LINE WAS SO GREAT… Top
– From Pilot/The Sopranos (Season 1, Episode 1): Tony Soprano, during his first visit with Dr. Jennifer Melfi, responds to the psychiatrist’s query about what line of work he is in.
“You can’t put all your problems on me. This is the most expensive retirement community in New Jersey. And, if you wanted to, you could be happy here. But you’re just pissin’ it all down the drain.”
– From Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Season 1, Episode 3): Tony visits his mom at her retirement home. Her response: “Such beautiful language for your mother.”
“Why? Because they think if you suck pussy, you’ll suck anything … It’s a sign of weakness – and possibly a sign that you’re a fanook.”
– From Boca (Season 1, Episode 9): Uncle Junior explains to his girlfriend, Roberta (Robyn Peterson), why she needs to keep quiet about his talents when it comes to oral sex.
“That’s not what I heard.”
– From Boca (Season 1, Episode 9): Carmela throws out a zinger about Uncle Junior’s dating skills after Tony asks him about his trip to Boca Raton and Junior says: “I don’t go down enough.”
“Uncle June and I, we had our problems, with the business. But I never should have razzed him about eating pussy: This whole war could have been averted. Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this.”
– From I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, Episode 13): Tony sums up his feelings to Carmela as they discuss how his relationship with Uncle Junior has sunk to such an all-time low.
“She’s so fat, her blood type is Ragu.”
– From Employee Of The Month (Season 3, Episode 4): Silvio engaging in banter about the obese wife of a rival mob boss named Johnny Sacrimoni (Vincent Curatola). Although Silvio gets away with his wisecrack, others in future episodes aren’t as fortunate.
“It’s so far removed by now, Tonto is a closer cousin to you.”
– From Commendatori (Season 3, Episode 4): Uncle Junior explaining to Tony the distant family relationship between the Sopranos and the mob boss Tony will be meeting up with in Italy.
“It’s not toxic. The owners were, what, 90 years old? It’s piss!”
– From Made In America (Season 6, Episode 21): Tony reassures Carmela that the odor that is lingering in their beachfront cottage/hideout is not something to be feared.
“You’ve made a fool of me for years with these whores.”
– From Whitecaps (Season 4, Episode 13): Carmela unleashes years of rage that has been building up over Tony’s many infidelities.
“Hey, I don’t even let anyone wag their finger in my face.”
– From Pax Soprana (Season 1, Episode 6): Tony responds to Dr. Melfi after she asks him when he last had a prostate exam.
“Ma. I know what you did. Your only son. Your middle child.”
– From I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, Episode 13): Tony confronting his mother after the failed hit on him.
“You know, Tony, it’s a multiple-choice thing with you. ‘Cause I can’t tell if you’re old-fashioned, you’re paranoid – or just a fuckin’ asshole.”
– From A Hit Is A Hit (Season 1, Episode 10): A smiling Carmela gently asking Tony what it means that she would “be taken care of” if something should happen to him.
“It’s not the worst thing I ever heard. I was seeing a therapist myself about a year ago. I had some issues. Enough said. I learned some coping skills.”
– From I’m Dreaming Of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, Episode 13): Paulie reacts to Tony finally revealing that he has been seeing a psychiatrist.
“I’d like to propose a toast. To my family. Some day soon, you’re going to have families of your own. And if you’re lucky, you’ll remember the little moments – like this – that were good. Cheers.”
– It’s the final line from from I’m Dreaming Of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, Episode 13): With a power failure and vicious storm raging outside, Tony and his family wrap up the show’s first season by settling in for dinner at the new restaurant owned by Tony’s friend, Artie Bucco (John Vantimiglia). It’s a scene that is similar to the series ender, but Tony’s words in this first-season finale pretty well sum up the point of the entire series.