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When this pilot aired in early 1999, few could predict a cultural
phenomenon was born: after all, how many people would be willing to
watch a cable drama about an Italian-American family (the gun-shaped
"r" in the title was added to make sure no one wrongfully assumed the
show revolved around opera singers), written by an unknown (David
Chase) and starring a guy with weight issues, best known for playing
Christopher Walken's henchman in True Romance (James Gandolfini)? In
the end, though, quality prevailed over prejudice, and for nearly a
decade The Sopranos kept seducing audiences all over the world with its
clever writing, superb cast and medium-stretching complexity,
deservedly earning the moniker "best TV show ever made". And it all
started with this episode...
Borrowing the premise from mob comedy Analyze This, the show opens with Tony Soprano (Gandolfini) waiting outside a psychiatrist's office. The reason he is there is he allegedly had a panic attack. "They said it was a panic attack.", he quickly points out, believing a man in his position is incapable of having such problems. And what exactly does he do, asks Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco)? He works in waste management, comes the quick-fire answer. The truth, however, is entirely different: Tony Soprano is torn between two radically conflicting worlds. On the one hand, he has to provide for his family, which comprises wife Carmela (Edie Falco), daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and son Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler); on the other, he is a captain in the New Jersey mafia, working preferably with his nephew Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), his uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) and old friends Silvio Dante (Steven van Zandt), Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) and Salvatore "Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore). Throw in an oppressive mother (Nancy Marchand), a Russian mistress and other problems, and it's no wonder poor Tony needs to see a shrink.
The whole "boss in therapy" thing might have seemed like a too far-fetched idea, but Chase gets away with it, so to speak, by crafting a complex but realistic universe in which to move his players and making sure every single character comes off as a three-dimensional person instead of a pale gangster caricature. Take Paulie, Silvio and Chris, for instance: we don't see much of them in this first show, but great lines and nuanced acting make sure there's more to them than just snazzy suits and foul mouths, as later episodes proved brilliantly. Naturally, the most impressive of these people is Tony, to whom Gandolfini lends a contradictory charm: how many family men are able to be endlessly tender when left alone with their wives and, five minutes later, beat the crap out of a man yelling: "Where's my f*cking money, you pr*ck?", and conquer the audience's sympathy with the latter behavior? Contradiction lies at the show's heart and is perhaps what viewers responded to the most: love and vulgarity, poetry and violence, laughter and death all went hand in hand throughout the series' 86-episode run, often in the same scene, leaving a blueprint for other HBO masterworks (Six Feet Under, Deadwood) to follow.
Speaking of blueprints, The Sopranos might initially sound like a small-screen version of The Godfather, and there are in fact several references to the mafia masterpiece in the show, not least Tony's tendency to compare himself to Marlon Brando. In reality, though, the series is closer to Goodfellas, as has been admitted by Chase himself, and not just in the casting (Bracco, Imperioli and Sirico all appeared in Scorsese's magnum opus): the family/crime contrast, the stress and paranoia, the profanity (Tony and his affiliates swear more in one season than Joe Pesci has in his entire career), the shocking violence (there's a quite brutal murder at the end of this episode, and more would follow) all belong to either product, and they all prove the same thing: organized crime isn't as fun as it has looked in the past. It's an ugly, uncompromisingly bleak life. And it makes for essential television.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the episode that began a television phenomenon and restored my faith in the excellence of television programming, or at least got my hooked to HBO. I loved and adored everything about this episode and I hold it so high on my podium because of how special seeing it for the first time was for me. The entire cast turns in extraordinary performances, especially James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and their MRI scene. I loved the 'GoodFellas' like narrative through the pilot and loved the 'Godfather' talk between Big Pussy and Christopher. The hit on Emil Kolar was fabulously done. Guest Starring Jerry Adler, John Ventimiglia and Katherine Narducci. Written & Directed by David Chase. My Rating: 10/10.
Aspiring mob boss Tony Soprano has a fainting spell and ends up in a shrink's office. It quickly becomes apparent through his chat with the shrink and a series of mostly comical flashbacks that he is a very bad man involved in some very bad stuff. You can feel the makings of a show here, obviously based on both THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS. Everything feels a bit rushed, but hey, it's a pilot and there's a lot to establish. Characters are not truly formed yet. Carmela is a typical New Jersey shrieker of a housewife, the kind we see in movies and hope never to meet. Sil and some of the other "boys" are only briefly glimpsed. Tony himself is not quite yet the Tony we will come to know; the gravitas is missing, if you'll pardon my use of that $100 word. But watch Tony's face as he gleefully runs down the guy who owes him money. He obviously loves the rough stuff, while feeling guilty about being both that guy and a family man with family responsibilities. By the way, the little bit of screen time Uncle Junior and Tony's mom have is worth its weight in gold, as these characters are played by two very sharp veteran actors. But just as THE GODFATHER was all about Marlon Brando, THE SOPRANOS ultimately will be all about James Gandolfini. Bring on all the guest stars you want, but without Gandolfini, there would be no THE SOPRANOS.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A chubby, long-haired (well...) Anthony Soprano gazes at the statue of
a maternal figure in a psychiatrist's office. He is interrupted when Dr
Jennifer Melfi opens the door and ushers him through. And so the
greatest TV show ever made begins...
It turns out that Tony Soprano's made in the mob, and he's been recommended to a psychiatrist after having a 'black-out'/panic attack at a family barbecue, which required an MRI scan that came back inconclusive. He's definitely got some maternal issues, a troublesome nephew, a beloved but challenging uncle, an unhappy marriage, a rebellious teenage daughter (duh!) and a not-so-rebellious (for now) son.
He's got a lot on his mind and this could be the reason he's blacking out: the Triborough Towers garbage contract looks like it's going to the Czechs and not the Italians; his Uncle Corrado Soprano Jr wants to set a mousetrap (or 'rat'-trap) for their friend-no-more Pussy Malingua in T's boyhood pal Artie Bucco's restaurant; he's getting stiff-nosed by a "degenerate gambler" called Mahaffey who owes him money and his kids are almost grown up -too much for a clingy mob Dad.
Having to cope with this is becoming too much, but Tony's days have recently been brightened by the southward migration of a family of ducks in his pool. Whether having something that doesn't talk, burden him or suck on his proverbial teat (or teats) is the reason for his elation is never explicitly mentioned in his appointments with Dr Melfi but it certainly seems like the black cloud is hailing sh*t once they've left.
Although it's not all bad: he does get his rebellious dreamer of a nephew Christopher to whack an associate of the Czechoslovakian mob's, which scares the big boys off as it was supposed to; by blowing up the restaurant Vesuvio, he fixes it so owner Artie can claim the insurance money from the fire without getting the dirt of a Mafia hit rubbed off on his civilian honour; and he inventively 'busts out' (where a business's assets and line of credit are exhausted to the point of bankruptcy) Dr Mahaffey by making him sign false, and costly, MRI claims to pay out to the organization.
Tony also expresses to Melfi his concerns that he may have turned up too late for the 'golden age' of the mob, because the code of silence is no longer upheld. He shows us and his daughter Meadow the magnificent architecture of the church which his Italian-born ancestors built and tells her of the difficulties in finding someone "who'll put decent granite on yer bathtub" these days.
It transpires in a better psychiatrist's appointment that the reason the ducks are so special to Tony is they represent his fear of losing his family -but which family is that? This is the dominant theme of the first episode along with Tony's yearning for the good ol' days and his using of people (the 'scan scam'), one which will prevail throughout the entire series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I know Sopranos is a classic but it is my first time watching the show.
So far I have a positive feeling on what is about to come.
This is just the pilot so I can predict that from now on it will be even better. So far we are introduced to Tony Soprano and his family and "colleagues". He passes out at a family bbq and ends up going to a psychiatrist to see what is wrong with him.
It is very promising as so far we have seen some great acting, got little introductions into the plot and saw some nice scenes and dialogues. I guess there will be even more action and am looking forward to see more into the depth of the main character. I already enjoyed him loving the ducks so much.
So, it's the pilot and if you know what's coming up after this, it does rather pale by comparison to the rest of the series but then, it is a pilot. More light hearted, wacky, more odd cinematic camera angles, a very different narrative style to the rest of the series but, even by the half way mark of this pilot it starts to resemble what it is to become, Tony's Looney Tunes Cartoon accent has begun to fade in places and we can almost forget we're watching the 1st episode. It took me a while to give The Sopranos a chance. It was an episode of season 3, the first one I saw in full, that made me want to see it from the start. That was back in 2001. I often think the more comical narrative of this pilot which was probably the subject of many of the early Channel 4 trailers was what put me off for the first few years. That, and the then close resemblance to the then recent film Analyse This. As a first time viewer though, you should not be put off. Within a few episodes you'll see why this is now considered by many as one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Sopranos: Pilot Episode 1.1 (1999)
"The beginning of one of television's most fascinating and entertaining shows ever"
Summary: A mobster passes out at a family barbecue and seeks therapy to understand why.
We are introduced to Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), his life and his soldiers who run his business; remember he is in 'waste management'.
After Tony passes out during a family barbecue, he seeks therapy from Dr. Jennifer Melfi, another Italian-American. Dr. Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas) is a vital character to the whole show, and it is from there that we get a close examination of Tony and his feelings.
First episode, we get some references from 'The Godfather' and other gangster epics. This is perhaps to try and tell the audience that this show has ground, maybe to show that the writers are knowledgeable.
An interesting start, not a groundbreaking one, in my opinion, however the show does evolve and it gets better, much better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Right then. Despite being an avid fan of mob movies and gangster
flicks, I never sat down to watch the cultural phenomenon that is The
Sopranos. I never found the time nor was very in tune with the world of
TV. It was always 'on my list'. But now the time has come. And the
world of TV is bigger than ever. And as such, I intend to watch series
like Game of Thrones (already up to date with this one), Breaking Bad,
Boardwalk Empire (produced by Martin Scorsese!), The Wire and many
other acclaimed series to see what all the fuss is about. I doubt
anyone will be interested in a review of every single episode of a TV
series, but it gives me an excuse to watch it and, as with any review,
allows me to express my opinions to, well
Often cited as the greatest and most influential TV show ever made, few would be able to predict how highly regarded this series would be almost 20 years later. After all, the show was about a small time Italian- American family, written by an unknown David Chase, and starring an overweight guy who was best known for playing Christopher Walken's overly-evil henchman in True Romance. Right off the bat we're introduced to three actors who have appeared in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (which is also referenced in this episode, as are The Godfather movies) which I know will be a running trend. I've heard about 20 actors from the movie appear in The Sopranos. The more, the merrier.
Tony Soprano, as he hastily informs Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), works in waste management. The truth however, is a bit more complicated. Tony is torn between two conflicting worlds; on one hand he has to provide for his family, which consists of spouse Carmela (Edie Falco), son Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and troublesome daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler); in contrast he is also the head of the New Jersey Mafia, where he works closely with his nephew Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), his crew Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt), Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) and Salvadore "P****" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) and his uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). Not to mention a tyrannical mother among many problems, it's no wonder Tony has issues.
Gandolfini does well with Tony Soprano, giving him a charm that you can't help but admire. In doing so we can empathize with a man who has just kicked the crap out of someone spouting "Where's my F****** money!?" when we saw him tenderly compassionate with his wife.
The first episode is impressive but not mind blowing. It sets the scene, and more importantly, the character of Tony Soprano. The pilot acts as a satisfactory insight of a complex man. The Godfather talk between Big Pussy and Christopher was wonderful, the money-collection scene was hilarious (look at Tony's face as he runs down the guy he clearly enjoys the rough life), and the hit on Emil Kolar was expertly accomplished. I especially loved the way we cut to a shot of pictures of famous gangster actors on the wall such as Edward G Robinson as Christopher fired each shot. The cuts back and forth between the shrink meetings and Tony's day to day activities kept the flow of the story seamless, even if the hit was a little hard to understand as we get introduced to quite a lot of not-yet-formed characters.
The show's pilot borrows the premise of the mob comedy Analyse This, in which a mob boss has a panic attack and visits a psychiatrist to understand why. And like Robert De Niro in Analyse This, Tony Soprano refused to accept he had a panic attack, believing a man in his position is incapable of this. After all, this is a man who lives in a culture where such a thing is considered a sign of weakness.
Ultimately the pilot is a satisfactory first glimpse at a world, a family, and man who will undoubtedly provide hours of entertainment. It doesn't cheaply shoehorn storytelling tactics to make you come back as a lot of pilots do nowadays. Instead it tells you to be patient, which I appreciate.
My Rating: 7/10
Full Review: http://cineranter.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/the-sopranos review-s1e1- pilot/
Despite its cult status The Godfather is definitely not in my favorites
list. I'm just not stimulated by these gangster-driven productions.
That's why it took me so long to finally check out The Sopranos. Now
that I have seen its pilot despite a few interesting elements I'm
convinced that I could have spent the hour doing something more
If conventional mob stories bore you to death, move on. The pilot featured everything you can expect from the genre : Murders, explosions So it's probably entertaining to many people, otherwise the show wouldn't have been so successful, but it lacked the creativity and boldness some premieres have been remembered for. The production is good, it's immersive, but not a single scene wowed me. Only a surprising lighting in an outdoor scene caught my attention. The rest felt like déjà vu and it also applies to the characters.
The story is really about Tony Soprano's struggle as a criminal, husband and father. James Gandolfini's performance was convincing but his part wasn't demanding. However I'm sure he was hired for a reason and that some of the upcoming episodes put him in a whole new light. In fact this first installment also portrayed him as a normal man, the nice neighbor next door. The psychotherapy sessions were specially enlightening to comprehend what's going on behind the curtain and at times it was hilarious. They also served to joint the different sequences and delivered an interesting way to introduce the protagonist. Lorraine Bracco made a decent shrink as Doctor Jennifer Melfi and her dynamic with the patient was quite good actually. The ducks metaphora was thoughtful and well exploited all along the episode. So even if her seduction factor makes her less believable their relationship is by far the most intriguing element.
Beside their arc I was also moved by a discussion Tony had with his daughter in a church about two of their ancestors who had built it. She mocked his words but he explained that they were among a crew and she realized how proud they must have been. It opened the Soprano family history book and revealed a certain potential behind the action and neverending manipulations. Even his wife mentioned something about spirituality so maybe the series deserve a second look.
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