The Sopranos is the greatest television show of all time. I know that sentence right there will be enough to start plenty of discussion, tweets, and emails, both in support of and in disagreement with that statement.
It's funny, with sports expansion breeds mediocrity. The more teams that get added to the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball, the more watered-down the product becomes. Essentially, new homes are created to house the crappy quarterbacks, point guards, and soft tossing lefties that twenty years ago would have been in Canada, in the CBA, or playing Double A-ball in Durham.
With television, the exact opposite has happened. Depending on what cable or satellite package to which you subscribe, you probably have at least 100 channels (maybe double or triple that) available to you. The result from the explosion in sheer volume of TV channels has been more very good to great TV shows in more different genres than ever before. The lesson? You'll get more respect as a decent actor than you will as a shitty left-handed pus-throwing reliever. I guess.
I bring this up because in television nowadays, when you say a show is "the best ever," the competition has never been stiffer. When I make my contention about The Sopranos, the one show that my listeners try to "raise the ante" with is The Wire. I've watched both from beginning to end, and it's close. Very close. So close that I smell a future "Tale of the Tape".
But for purposes of this post, I bring up The Sopranos for two reasons: Rumors have begun to spring up (and let's face it, it was just a matter of time) about a Sopranos movie. I'm not sure yet how to feel about this, but with Sopranos creator David Chase, it's almost like it is for Rockets fans with GM Daryl Morey, where if he makes a deal Rocket fans assume it's a good deal. If Chase decides to make a movie, I trust him.
Have you looked at the football schedule for this weekend? It blows!! There is one college game matching up ranked teams and that's #25 Cal vs #17 Stanford. Plus, the Texans don't play until Monday night. In other words, it's a perfect time to take a trip down Memory Turnpike, take a seat at the Bada Bing, and pop in some old Sopranos DVD's.
So with that in mind, I am giving you my personal list of the 10 Greatest Episodes of The Sopranos, and more or less 10-12 hours of viewing that could serve as a Cliffs Notes way of going back and getting a feel for the series from beginning to end. In essence for those of you who don't have 86 spare hours to go back through six seasons of DVD's, I've whittled the greatest show ever into a weekend for you. So without further ado, here we go:
10. "IRREGULAR AROUND THE MARGINS" (Season 5, Episode 5)
This episode was in the middle of the season where Tony and Carmela were separated. Not like marriage was ever really an impediment for "T" to dip his cannoli in broads not named Carmela Soprano, but he in season 5...well, let's just say separation seemed to agree with Tony. However, it almost went sour in this episode where he gets into an accident with Adriana (who happens to be his psychotic nephew Christopher's fiancé) riding shotgun and the rumor mill goes into overdrive. The end result was Tony almost whacking Chrissy execution-style in the Meadowlands swamps in maybe the most tense scene in the history of the show that didn't end with someone's brains splattered on the floor.
Damn, can't a mob boss and a Jersey skank go buy some cocaine in Dover, NJ without everyone thinking he's getting a hummer?
9. "WHITECAPS" (Season 4/ Episode 13 - season finale)
If you want to see the final straws that broke the camel's back leading up to Tony and Carmela's separation, the Season 4 finale contains some of the best-acted scenes in the history of the show. A bit of Sopranos trivia, it's also the only episode to ever exceed an hour as HBO needed 75 minutes to tell what was maybe the most realistic, most relatable (if that's a word) storyline in the six seasons of the show.
8. "UNIDENTIFIED BLACK MALES" (Season 5/Episode 9)
This episode laid the groundwork for two of the most crucial storylines of the show's final season. First, the episode begins presumably just a day or two after Tony Blundetto whacked Joey Peeps, which in the New York vs. New Jersey storyline (the foundation of the final two seasons) is the "Ok, NOW it's on" trigger event.
All of the previous NJ vs. NY peccadilloes before had been largely business-type posturing (HUD scams) or restaurants getting vandalized (the big penis getting spray painted on the painting in Carmine's restaurant made me chuckle), but Joey was the first family guy (stress the word, GUY; Lorraine's whacking didn't count) to go. Also, this is the episode where we found out that Vito liked to smoke the occasional pecker, which would also become a HUGE bone of contention between New Jersey and New York. (And yes, I giggled when I typed "bone of contention" about Vito.) Enjoy....
7. "HEIDI AND KENNEDY" (Season 6/Episode 18)
Well, Chrissy managed to escape whacking in Season 5, but he wasn't so lucky in the show's final season. This, of course, wasn't even a mob-style whacking. Tony had been pondering "offing" Chrissy for sometime (You just can't have a crackhead in your crew, it's bad for business.), and as luck would have it, the two of them were in Chrissy's Humvee one night and got into an accident which resulted in Chrissy (not wearing a seatbelt...druggies, when will they learn?) in rough-enough shape for Tony to decide to suffocate him. Problem solved!!
6. "HAPPY WANDERER" (Season 2/Episode 6)
The Sopranos is at its best when you get to watch a Jersey mob boss (a world 99.9% of us really have no clue about other than through movies and television) deal with real life day-to-day issues that 99.9% of us actually deal with. When the mundane world in which we live bleeds into Tony-land, the show is truly great.
In this episode, a boyhood friend of Tony's (and father of one of Meadow's best friends), Davey Scutino, decides to show up at one of Tony's underground poker games. Only two problems -- one, Davey is a compulsive gambler; and two, he has no money. So Davey does the American thing -- he borrows 45 large over about 12 hours from Tony's goons running the game. What could possibly go wrong?
5. "WHOEVER DID THIS" (Season 4/Episode 9)
Ralphie Cifaretto (played to award-winning acclaim by Joe Pantaliano) is one of the most polarizing characters in the show's history, both among fans and within the storylines. On the one hand, he is a selfish, twisted, deranged prick, but on the other hand he was probably Tony's best earner in the history of the show. Ultimately, you knew Ralphie's demise would come, and ultimately you knew Tony (a reputed animal lover) would whack someone over cruelty to an animal. This episode is where those two dynamics met. The lesson -- don't mess with a horse that Tony likes, even if you're the owner.
4. "FUNHOUSE" (Season 2/Episode 13 - season finale)
Whackings occur seemingly on every episode of
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; in fact, if you do the math, I believe the death-to-episode ratio actually exceeds one per show. I'm sure these stats are on some fantasy mob site somewhere, where you get points for your mobsters whacking other guys. "I got the first pick in my mob draft! Yes!! Paulie Walnuts time, baby!!"
Well, if such a thing did exist, the whacking of Big Pussy Bonpensiero would have been the equivalent of a 99-yard touchdown. The first of Tony's true inner circle to "have to go", every Sopranos fan remembers where they were when Big Pussy got it.
3. "COLLEGE" (Season 1/Episode 5)
Perhaps no Sopranos episode bled together Tony's mob life with his everyday life as a father and husband better than "College." Assigned the duty of taking Meadow on college visits in Maine, Tony happens across a former mob soldier who ratted out numerous members of the Jersey family years ago. This is also the episode where Meadow first asks the question "Are you in the mafia?", and the episode where we find out just how creepy family priest Father Intintola can be. Sopranos aficionados consider this to be the episode where the show truly "arrived."
2. "LONG TERM PARKING" (Season 5/Episode 12)
Perhaps no pending death marinated longer than that of Adriana, Christopher's fiancé. Accidentally befriending an FBI agent at the end of Season 3, "Ade" went through most of Seasons 4 and 5 trying to give as little information as possible to the Feds and dealing with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome what comes with being a rat. Again, some of the best acting in the series is in this episode, in particular the scene where Adriana breaks the news that she's a federal cooperator to Chrissy. Awesome stuff.
1. "PINE BARRENS" (Season 3/Episode 11)
There are so many reasons to love this episode, but I think when it comes down to determining which episode is best, you ask yourself "If you could give one episode to someone who has never seen the show, and know that they would see all of the elements that make the show great and enjoy that hour of viewing even without knowing the intricacies of all the storylines, which would it be?" The answer -- "PINE BARRENS." It's a fantastic blend of dark comedy (Paulie and Chrissy losing what is supposed to be a dead Russian in the woods), light comedy ("Mix it with the relish!"), the blending of Tony's three lives (mob, husband/father, and sugar daddy/boyfriend), and all of the flaws of the main characters on full display.
So there you go, one man's opinion. My recommendation? Watch the pilot episode of The Sopranos, watch the ten episodes I just listed in chronological order, and then watch the final two episodes. It'll be the best thirteen hours you spend all week.