The Sopranos has been hailed as one of, if not the great television drama of all time. The show premiered in 1999 and aired for six seasons. The pilot episode, introducing the world to Tony Soprano and his family, is regarded as a masterpiece in the writing and execution of the episode.
The series went on to win a multitude of awards including two Peabody Awards, twenty-one Primetime Emmy Awards, and five Golden Globe awards. The pilot is pretty much perfect and it’s actually surprisingly difficult to find flaws within it, even decades later.
Perfect: James Gandolfini
The lead character, Tony Soprano, who the series revolves around, is played by late actor, James Gandolfini. Gandolfini’s presence on-screen commands the attention of everyone watching, much like his character, Tony Soprano commands the attention of every room he enters.
This is one of those iconic roles, where the actor playing it makes it look so easy. He’s comfortable in Tony’s shoes and he knows the character like the back of his hand, making his performance not only effortless, but so compelling. It’s clear this role was meant for Gandolfini.
Not Perfect: The Effects
This probably isn’t the shows fault, given the time that is was created, but the special effects, especially in the scene where Tony and his cousin, Christopher, chase down and eventually beat up Alex Mahaffey, a gambling addict who borrowed money from Tony to feed his habit and has yet to pay him back.Tony first hits Alex with his car, then proceeds to get out of the car and beat Alex some more as he lies on the ground, writhing in pain from a broken leg. The punching noises are unrealistic and don’t time out very well with the action on screen and the punching itself isn’t very well executed, making it hard to believe what this scene is trying to make its audience believe.
Perfect: The Ducks
The writing throughout the entire series is brilliant and the pilot is no exception. The writers do an amazing job of balancing Tony’s family life and organized crime life. They also handle the storyline dealing with Tony’s anxiety and depression very well.
In the pilot, the writers use a family of ducks that have landed in Tony’s pool as an analogy for everything happening in Tony’s life. These ducks make Tony incredibly happy and he brings them up pretty consistently. By the end of the episode, the ducks are gone, and the final shot of Tony’s empty pool tells gives the audience clear signs of trouble.
Not Perfect: The Breakfast Meeting
Tony goes to meet some of his fellow mobsters so they can discuss business over breakfast. The gentlemen sit outside talking and it’s the only scene in the entire pilot that is difficult to watch because the editing, particularly the coloring in the scene is really off.
It seems as though the lighting wasn’t set up properly, or maybe wasn’t even used to film the scene, and all of the colors are very red, making everyone look a little distorted. It’s one of the few things about this pilot that really shows its age and can’t hold it’s on against the technology and editing we have today.
Perfect: Edie Falco
In The Sopranos the matriarch of the Soprano household, wife to Tony Soprano, and mother to Meadow and A.J. Soprano, Carmela Soprano is played by the incredibly talented, Edie Falco. Edie’s performance in this role earned her the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, three years in a row.
She also received two Golden Globes and three Screen Actors Guild Awards for her work on this show. Edie as Carmela is tough, she’s not your typical housewife and she knows how to use a gun, but she also loves her family unconditionally and will do anything for the people she loves.
Not Perfect: There’s A Lot Going On
The pilot can be a bit overwhelming. There’s a lot of story and it moves quickly and there are also a lot of characters to keep track of and they all have very Italian sounding names. It’s easy to get lost in the details of the story in the first episode and to remember and keep track of everyone and everything that’s going on.
There are a few incidents that raise questions in the pilot because that party of the story has been glossed over rather quickly to move on to the next part of the story. It gets a little confusing, especially toward the end and it could potentially lose focus for its audience.
Perfect: The Gabbagool
It’s a term frequently associated with Tony Soprano and the series in general. It’s a phrase Tony loves to say and fans love to question because no one really know what it means and why Tony was constantly saying it. When you bring up The Sopranos to someone who’s watched the show, they probably will respond by simply saying “it’s the gabbagool!”, with their best Tony Soprano dialect.
The pilot episode is the first time we hear Tony say it and it’s. clear from the very beginning that this is one of Tony’s favorite phrases.
Not Perfect: There’s A Lot Of Violence
Some fans may appreciate and even like the gruesome aspects of the show, but it feels a little gratuitous in some scenes. There’s a particularly gruesome scene where Christopher shoots a man in the back of the head as he leans it to ingest a narcotic.
The victim doesn’t see it coming, but we do, and we also see the aftermath with all of the blood spatter and the victim sliding off the table and onto the floor. It’s a gruesome scene and one that is clearly staged for the shock value and nothing else.
Perfect: The Therapist Storyline
The fact that the audience gets to hear Tony’s entire story as he tells it to his therapist is nothing short of genius. In the pilot, it’s a perfect way to introduce the characters and for the audience to get a clear understanding of the world we’ve just entered. It’s also a fun storytelling device because Tony Soprano can’t reveal too much to his new therapist, given what he does for a living, so watching him walk that fine line between getting help and oversharing is amusing and keeps us all on our toes. The therapist, Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco is perfect in the role.
Perfect: It Stands Alone
This pilot is so perfectly written and executed by the show’s creator, David Chase, it could stand alone as a feature film. There is a clear story, separated into three acts, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The characters are written so specifically and given such clear voices, it makes you want to get to know all of them better. The show’s cliffhanger at the end is also perfect and something that easily makes an audience come back to tune in the following week.
The pilot and the series finale are the only two episodes both written and directed by Chase, and it’s not coincidence that those happen to be the two most praised episodes in the entire series.