The Sopranos is one of the greatest television dramas ever made, earning consistent critical acclaim for its cast, writing, and rich themes. Originally billed as a mafia story in the vein of The Godfather and Goodfellas, The Sopranos often veered off course to defy expectations and present themes regarding existentialism, the foreknowledge of death, growing old, and the dissolution of “the good times.”
Of course, the show still found time to tell a genuinely fascinating story, with each season containing their own unique arching subplots. Some were great, some were not so great.
These are the five greatest, and five worst, storylines of The Sopranos.
Best: Tony Vs. His Mother
The first season of The Sopranos is often considered its weakest due to a variety of factors, including its more “traditional” mafia story. But it’s traditionalism doesn’t necessarily make it bad. The first season is primarily concerned with Tony battling his mother and Uncle Junior as they plan his execution. The concept of an overbearing mother planning the death of her own son was wonderfully rich and exciting, especially for the time.
Worst: Basically Anything With Meadow
Meadow was always utilized as a thematic device more than anything – a way to represent the great cultural divide between generations. But she never really worked as a character, and her subplots are often fiercely criticized. Noah is quite possibly the most hated character on The Sopranos, the Finn storyline didn’t really go anywhere, and no one seemed to care about her academic or professional career.
Best: Tony Vs. Richie
If the first season focused on family, then the second expanded outward and focused on the “external.” For the second season, Livia and Junior Soprano were sidelined in favor of Richie Aprile, who was recently released from prison. Tony and Richie often butted heads regarding leadership and business practices, with Richie utilizing a far more violent and rash approach. This storyline ended in a very surprising and expectation-defying manner, further cementing its legacy.
Worst: Basically Anything With AJ
Again, Tony’s children work more as thematic devices than they do intriguing characters. And AJ may be even worse than his big sister.
Many Sopranos fans detest AJ, and his boring storylines certainly don’t help. Most of them revolve around “AJ is lazy and directionless,” and by the time the show does it for the seventh or eighth time, it begins to lose its luster. That said, his failed suicide attempt is arguably the saddest scene in the entire show, so at least there’s some gold to be found.
Best: Tony Vs. Ralphie
If there’s a knock against the Tony vs. Ralphie subplot, it’s that it tread very similar ground to the Tony/Richie subplot. Even their personalities and business approaches are suspiciously similar. Yet the Tony/Ralphie arguably generated even richer rewards, as it spanned two seasons and provided some of the best material in the show’s history, including the brutal beating of Tracee, the death of Pie-O-My, and the hilarious clean-up of Ralphie’s body.
Worst: Columbus Day
Christopher is often regarded as one of the worst episodes of The Sopranos. In fact, it is the lowest-rated episode of the show on IMDb, where it sits at a measly 7.9/10. Much of the criticism stems from that weird Columbus Day subplot in which the guys get involved in a Columbus Day dispute between Italians and Native Americans. It’s way too on-the-nose for The Sopranos, and nearly everyone seems out of character. Thankfully it only lasts one episode.
Best: Kevin Finnerty
The brief Kevin Finnerty subplot is very divisive within The Sopranos fandom, but it is undoubtedly the most gutsy.
Season six is when The Sopranos really started to delve into the existential, and it all started with Tony’s coma. It used the coma storyline to expound on themes of existentialism, loneliness, identity, and family, and it utilized some fantastic imagery along the way. The shot of Tony looking out his hotel window while the light flashes on the horizon is one of the best in the show’s history.
Worst: Carmela & Furio
Season four is widely considered to be the series’ worst. The show had largely forgotten the mob stuff by this point, and the season mostly concerned the dissolution of the Soprano marriage. Throughout much of the season, Carmela and Furio fight their infatuations to each other. Carmela wishes to remain loyal to Tony, and Furio doesn’t want to get involved with the boss’s wife. It’s a little too “soap opera,” and a cliché love triangle is most certainly not what The Sopranos needed.
Best: Tony Vs. Phil
The Sopranos may not have ended in the most satisfactory of ways. Even though its reputation has gotten better with time, it was enormously controversial upon release – especially the rapid cut to black. But 6B is quite possibly the greatest string of episodes in the show’s history, and that is in large part thanks to the “final battle” between Tony and New York boss Phil Leotardo. Even though he was introduced fairly late into the series, he made for a fantastic final obstacle.
Worst: Vito In New Hampshire
If 6B is the greatest string of episodes in the show’s run, then 6A is the worst. 6A is often criticized for being “boring” or “inconsequential,” and that is mainly due to the Vito & Johnnycakes storyline. As this was the final season, many people were expecting long-simmering storylines to culminate. Instead, viewers are treated to a new storyline involving a rather inconsequential character and played by a less-than-capable actor.