If you’ve thought about using the summer hiatus to catch up on TV, you might consider (re)watching “The Sopranos” along with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, who will be taking readers through the first season one episode at a time. Sepinwall, who covered “The Sopranos” for the Newark Star-Ledger, the paper a bathrobe-clad Tony habitually picks up from the bottom of his driveway, from its fourth season on, picking up the baton from his colleague Matt Zoller Seitz. He literally wrote the book, or a book, on the show — The Revolution Was Televised, whose chapter on “The Sopranos” is also available as a separate purchase — and conducted the first, and for a long while only, interview on the finale with creator David Chase, the source of the famously provocative phrase, “It’s all there.”
So how does “The Sopranos” — the name of the pilot as well as the show — look now, in light of the Golden Age of Television it (allegedly) spawned? Pretty good, as it turns out.
As Dr. Melfi notes, Tony’s fear that he came in at the end — not just of his particular job field, but of the American experiment itself — was a common one at the time, and it’s no less common today. The world is a mess, the economy is a mess, and our political system is a catastrophe at this point. So what was timely and universal in 1999 still is as we revisit the show today.
“The Sopranos” itself, though, is the start of something. It’s the drama that launched a thousand imitators — some great in their own right (“The Shield,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad”), some less so (“Low Winter Sun”) — and kickstarted this new Golden Age of TV drama in which we currently live.
And what’s amazing is not only how current this pilot feels 16 years later (fashions and technology aside), but how fully-formed it is. The series wouldn’t become a word-of-mouth phenomenon for another few episodes, which we can discuss when we get to “College,” but this episode isn’t a version of “The Sopranos” with training wheels on it. Give or take some minor character or set design details (some of which I get into in the spoiler section), “The Sopranos” the episode is “The Sopranos” the series.
Are you ready to revisit TV’s past, even though “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation”? There’s much more, as we said in 1999, after the jump.