One of the most influential television shows of the 21st century has been The Sopranos. Though it first aired over two decades ago, it is still amazing to see how the HBO crime drama helped to shape the new and bold age of television that is still thriving to this day. And looking back on that first season of the show cements how brilliant The Sopranos was.
In the years since, the first season has held up very well. The storylines and characters are as thrilling as ever, whether someone is revisiting the series after multiple rewatches, or they are experiencing it for the very first time.
The Therapy Sessions
It is fitting that the first lines in The Sopranos are spoken in a therapy session between Tony and Dr. Melfi as so much of the first season revolves around these moments. The idea of this man who comes from a world of violence and crime is forced to confront his darkest thoughts and personal issues is a terrific starting point for the series.
The conversations between Tony and Melfi are often engrossing, intense, and even funny at times. Their relationship dynamic is also very compelling as they butt heads, disagree, but ultimately share a fascination with each other.
The show could have come up with an easy excuse to send a man like Tony to therapy. His anxiety could have come from threats on his life or facing jail time, but the show instead grounds these inner struggles with things that are often relatable to the average viewer.
From the moment Tony suffers a panic attack at seeing a flock of young ducks fly away, the show proves it has something interesting to say about Tony as a character and feelings of anxiety in general. This humanizing of Tony is essential for the audience to sympathize with him as he carries out terrible crimes.
The Sopranos faced an interesting challenge in its first season as it attempted to set up its protagonist who was involved in organized crime. While some shows might try to lessen the bad aspects or play it for laughs, the first episode embraced Tony’s darker side.
In one scene, Tony and Christopher are seen hunting down a man who owes them money and severely beating him. Though many shows that followed also made their own flawed protagonists, the moment still makes for a memorable way of throwing viewers into this world.
Junior’s Self-Conscious Leadership
Junior Soprano is one of the funniest characters on the show but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is also a very complex character. He is an older veteran of the crime family who feels he is being overlooked. When he does gain some power, he is shown to be little more than a puppet.
Just as the therapy sessions with Tony explore insecurities, the scenes of Junior’s crippling concerns over his own image make for a new take on the mob genre. His pathetic attempts to not be made a fool of also make Junior a dangerous and unpredictable man.
Balancing Family Life
As much as The Sopranos is a crime drama, it is also a family drama as Tony balances his mob lifestyle with his home life. Season 1 of the show plants many of the seeds that will grow over the course of the series in terms of Tony and his family.
From Carmela growing guilty over being complacent to this life of crime to Tony’s kids gradually understanding more about the work he does, it adds a very effective domestic look at the life of a gangster.
Meeting The Crew
Tony’s family at home provides plenty of interesting material for the show, but his other family is just as interesting. The various gangsters in Tony’s crew make up some of the best characters in the show and it is a lot of fun being brought into their world in the first season.
From watching Paulie and Silvio rough up and threaten various targets to the possibility of Big Pussy being an informant, the crew is hugely entertaining. And the most important aspect is Christopher’s immature and desperate need to be respected as a player in the game.
Tony And His Mother
Undoubtedly, the most interesting and complex relationship explored in the first season of The Sopranos is between Tony and his mother. The therapy scenes give great insight into the long dysfunctionality between them which also helps to explain a lot about Tony.
His mother is also a terrific character who is funny and unsettling at times as she constantly feels sorry for herself but is also able to manipulate people against Tony in her twisted desire for revenge. Sadly, Nancy Marchand who played Livia Soprano died during the filming of the second season. as such, the first season remains the most complete display of how integral this relationship was in the series.
The first season of the show reaches a climax when the feud between Junior and Tony boils over leading to Junior ordering a hit on his own nephew. Adding to the dysfunction of it all was the fact that Tony’s mother was the one who encouraged Junior to go through with it.
The storyline puts a terrific feeling of tension over the end of the season and shows how much the show can keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The actual scene in which Tony is targeted is appropriately thrilling and proves killing Tony Soprano is no easy feat.
Tony Settling Scores
As much as the characterizations and personal relationships are what makes The Sopranos such an engrossing show, it also delivers on crime genre aspects of the show as seen with the aftermath of the attempt on Tony’s life.
The final episode of the season has the feel of the climax of The Godfather as Tony and his crew systematically take out their enemies. It is a violent, shocking, and thrilling way of wrapping up the amazing first season.
The College Trip
The fifth episode of the first season is not only one of the most important in the show’s run but was quite impactful for the television landscape as a whole. The episode follows Tony as he takes his daughter Meadow on a road trip to visit colleges only to happen upon a former mob informant along the way.
Though Tony had been seen as an angry and violent man already in the season, this episode challenged what audiences would take from the protagonist. When Tony murders the informant in cold blood, The Sopranos broke new ground in how daring television could be.