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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 12:49am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Okay, let’s do it.


Inspired by this thread—


—I’ve decided, on a complete whim, to watch THE SOPRANOS for the first time. I’d never seen it before. I remember all of the talk about the show, back when it was on. I didn’t have HBO until the show was nearly over, and really only knew of it from the references and parodies floating around popular culture. So, I’m coming in way late on this.

Of course, the show’s reputation is legendary. It’s widely regarded as one of (if not THE) greatest TV dramas of all time, and single-handedly kicked off the so-called “Golden Age” of television that we’re now living in. It broke rules, invented some of its own, and completely changed the game. It also kicked in the door and made room for other popular crime drama/antihero shows like my beloved BREAKING BAD. 

But...I’d never seen it. Not for lack of interest, although Mafia films and TV are a bit outside of my usual wheelhouse. The opportunity just never presented itself. Well, today, I looked in the aforementioned thread, and the discussion of the show’s somewhat infamous non-ending made me want to finally give it a shot. So, I checked on my cable provider’s VoD list, and there it was. Free on Demand. The entire series. And in HD! I’m a bit surprised to learn that the show was originally presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. I was worried that the HD remastering of the show also included revisionist picture cropping to match the look of modern shows. But, no, THE SOPRANOS was apparently ahead of its time in terms of its aspect ratio, too.

I know virtually nothing about the show, aside from the basic premise, some of the principal actors, and the non-ending. I look forward to hearing the thoughts and commentary of youse guys as this thread progresses. Mind you, I’m still working on rewatching STAR TREK- THE NEXT GENERATION, so I won’t be able to give THE SOPRANOS my full attention for a few more weeks, but I’ll sneak in episodes when I can. I was originally going to wait until I finished TNG, but I decided to just jump in, tonight.

That being said...


“THE SOPRANOS” (pilot).


I Get It. Immediately. I understand why the show caught on, back in the day. What I didn’t realize until now is just how funny it is. Like, really witty and clever. Clever character moments, clever juxtapositions for humorous effect, fast and subtle jokes which aren’t spelled out for the audience. The series’ premise has an inherent dark humor to it, naturally—a likable mobster with depression talks to a therapist about his family (and his Family)—but I didn’t realize just how funny it would be. 

Lots of wonderful moments in this pilot, and it provides a great overview of the characters and general thrust of Tony Soprano’s daily life. The cards are also laid on the table rather quickly, in terms of Dr. Melfi clearly knowing who Tony is and what he does for a living, even though she doesn’t come right out and say it. I remember the dynamic between these two being much-discussed during the show’s heyday, and I can see why.

The late James Gandolfini is superb, as are the other principals. Gandolfini brings a disarming charm and likability to Tony Soprano. We immediately see that he’s a complex guy, with complex problems in all areas of his life. His family and his Family lives tend to stay comfortably separate, but still bleed together in certain instances. He’s a guy who longs for the Old Days, when there was a certain code of ethics among mobsters. Despite being a violent criminal and a serial cheater, there’s a strangely naive optimism and childlike vulnerability to him. I totally see why Gandolfini received so much praise, and why the character became an icon of modern popular culture, and I’m chomping at the bit to see more.

I’m impressed with how effortlessly the pilot sets up the characters, the tone of the show, and the world of Tony Soprano. It’s fast, smart, and, as noted, really funny.

And, man, this episode is a real slice of the 90s, isn’t it? CDs, laserdisc players, and “You’ve got mail!”.


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 11 March 2018 at 12:53am
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 3:23am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

I'll be following this thread, Greg! I've always found
your discussions of Star Trek to be... Fascinating. :)

Of note: Seasons 1 and 2 are great HBO TV, but the
series hit its stride and a quality level from season
3 on, that is truly amazing. Masterpiece television
that I found shows like the much vaunted Breaking Bad
never achieved, in comparison.

Think: if the first 2 season of Star Trek TNG had
actually been good, but seasons 3 on still took a
quantum leap forward in terms of quality.
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Michael Penn
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 5:21am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Like Greg, I did not watch "The Sopranos" until recently (just last year). I don't think it was the greatest TV show ever, but it's up there, definitely.

Like Marc, I think that Season 3 is simply great television. Some truly amazing moments then. For me, the peak of the series (and it stays very high in quality toward the end).

Edited by Michael Penn on 11 March 2018 at 5:24am
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John Byrne
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 6:57am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

It's interesting, to me, that some have compared this show with GAME OF THRONES -- not in terms of content, but in terms of how much they enjoyed each.

Both landed with the same dull thud for me. GoT because I find George R.R. Martin's work impenetrable and derivative, and THE SOPRANOS because it came across as a working class GODFATHER pastiche.

(Didn't help that I just did not like James Gandolfino as a performer. From what I have read, he was a great guy in real life, but his characters I found most unappealing.)

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 11:04am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

Both landed with the same dull thud for me. GoT because I find George R.R. Martin's work impenetrable and derivative, and THE SOPRANOS because it came across as a working class GODFATHER pastiche.

++++++++

That’s a good way to describe what I’ve seen, thus far. There are several references and tips of the hat to THE GODFATHER in the pilot, too. It comes across as a semi-comedic, working-class GODFATHER. New Jersey instead of New York, waste management instead of olive oil imports, etc.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 11:19am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

Masterpiece television 
that I found shows like the much vaunted Breaking Bad 
never achieved, in comparison.
+++++++

Blasphemy!!!
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Vinny Valenti
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 11:42am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

You will probably quickly notice Tony's change in accent between the pilot and the rest of the series. Gandolfini speaks with his true voice in the pilot, but changes his accent after the show got picked up.

Also, you'll notice how the kids age between episodes. The pilot was shot in the summer of 1997, and the second episode 10 months later - with the show finally premeiring in January 1999. That also gave Gandolfini the opportunity to gain a considerable amount of weight for the role in-between.
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Dave Phelps
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 11:46am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Just watched the whole thing last year myself (aside from a Season 2(?) episode around the time the series was coming out). I got what they were going for, and I could see why the show was so well loved, but so many of the characters came across as arrogant entitled assholes that it wasn't a particularly pleasant show to watch a lot of the time. (I'm probably in the minority in that I was rooting for the cops...)      

Interesting to see the comments about season 3. To me, the first season was clearly the story they came to tell (heck, compare the last few minutes of the Season 1 finale to the last few minutes of the Season 6 finale), then season two started and there's a bit of "oh, hey, we're still here" that they had to work through.
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Vinny Valenti
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 12:17pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

"(I'm probably in the minority in that I was rooting for the cops...)"

---

Same here. The problem is, with shows like THE SOPRANOS and DEXTER and their finales, it came off to me as if I was not supposed to be rooting against the title characters. It was because of that in the case of those two shows, I did not revisit the show once it ended, even though I own all of THE SOPRANOS DVDs.

In contrast, I felt that BREAKING BAD still works whether you root for or against Walter White.
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Vinny Valenti
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 12:24pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

"Interesting to see the comments about season 3. To me, the first season was clearly the story they came to tell"

--

Interestingly enough, I did not start watching the show until Season 3, which was in progress at the time, and did not backfill seasons 1 and 2 until 3 had finished. My perceptions of Carmella and the kids were very skewed at first as a result. During Season 3 itself, it came off as if they didn't know what Tony really does, and that they really thought that he was in "Waste Management". That made me sympathetic to them. But then I saw Seasons 1 and 2 and realized that they are very much aware of what he does and the life of murder that he leads, and I quickly turned against them. I feel like the characters only worked if they were not in on it. But turning a blind eye to theft and murder makes them almost as bad, IMO.
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 3:21pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

The show never tries to make us suddenly
be OK with mobsters and organized crime,
it tries to show us the lifestyle and
beliefs of their "world".
The comedic aspects of the show are great,
and there are episodes throughout the
entire run of the series that have some
great humour.

Edited by Marc M. Woolman on 11 March 2018 at 3:23pm
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 11 March 2018 at 3:43pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

A good character study doesn’t mean one has to like what the characters do, or even like the characters themselves!
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