I wish I could say I was a fan from day one. Part of the problem is that I was 15 when the show started. My dad was a big fan, and that didn’t help since I was at the age when I didn’t want to like anything he did.
The first episode I ever saw in it’s entirety was the season premiere of season 6, “Members Only”, the episode where Junior shoots Tony. My wife and I were visiting my uncle, and my cousin was home for spring break and we watched it with her. I was hooked. I went home and watched the rest of the first part of season 6 as it happened, and in the 10 months or so before the second (and final part) I watched the first 65 episodes I had missed. I did this via Blockbuster’s now defunct rent by mail service which ultimately lost out to Netflix.
Since that first time through, I have seen the complete series in order probably 2 more times1, with lots of other one-off episodes viewed in between. This show is spectacular. Having just recently watched the show most often in the conversation with The Sopranos, The Wire, I started to try and figure out which really is the better of the two. Looking back, The Sopranos is probably the better show. It didn’t have the same depth of characters, but Tony, Carmela and Dr. Melfi were just so far above anyone on The Wire not named Omar that the conversation might be over.
I have been saying for years that the idea of rooting for “bad guys” traces back to The Sopranos. There also seems to be a parallel between that concept and the string of great television shows that have come since (The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Shield, Homeland), but Tony did this better than anyone. He was a violent adulterer from the beginning. You wanted to hate him, but you couldn’t.
Like everyone else, I yelled “NOOOOOOO!” when I thought my cable died at the end of the season finale. I hated the ending. I felt cheated. But upon multiple viewings since, I have grown to like it. Pop culture has trained us to want closure, but in reality, this worked out just fine. I have heard all the theories about whether he did and didn’t die. I like the deep analysis on why people thought he was killed and I think I mostly side with those and live under the theory that Tony is dead. But how it ended wasn’t nearly as important as the journey2 there, which is probably the best experience in the history of television.
I am going to spend this week talking about some of my favorite characters, episodes and moments from the show, all in the memory of James Gandolfini.