The Sopranos - First Season Thoughts

Category: , , , , By Rev/Views

This one is for those of you who've watched the first season of The Sopranos. For everyone else I'd recommend sticking with the lighter and spoiler free 1st Season Review.

For everyone else, remember I've only seen the first season at this point, I'm about to start the second season - but I wanted to get these thoughts down before watching any more and having future events colour my experience.

Read on, but spoilers lurk beyond...

So you can, of course, colour me completely impressed by The Sopranos first season. I can see why people and critics alike rave about it, it's an exceptionally brilliant - and accessable - show.

First of all, there were two slightly odd experiences I had while watching the first episode. These were both caused by other shows - the first is the completely different appearance of Edie Falco when compared to Nurse Jackie. Nurse Jackie is the first place I've encountered her, and while I'd read comparisons which talked about how different she looked in the two series experiencing this was pretty amazing. In Jackie she looks, well tired, strung out and her haircut doesn't flatter her at all. But in The Sopranos she's pretty good looking indeed, I guess haircuts do make a difference.

The second slight jarr comes from the opening sequence, which is parodied in the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law episode 'Dabba Dabba Don". The opening sequence is re-cut with scenes of Fred Flintstone travelling in Bedrock. I've watched Harvey Birdman many times (mostly thanks to it's light nature and short episode length) and as such I cannot watch the opening credits to The Sopranos without reflecting on it's cartoon parody.

Outside of those two highly personal oddities the show is nothing short of amazing. It looks good, it flows well and the performances from some of the cast members are nothing short of superb. I can see why the show is one of those which is most commonly referrenced as 'one of the best shows of all time' already, and I've only seen the first thirteen episodes.

For myself, largest and most interesting points of the first season are revolve around Tony's depression and his therapy sessions with Dr Melfi. I've studied psychology and psychiatry quite extensively over the years, especially depression, a condition I have a considerable interest in. While I'm no recognised expert, I was pleased with the way Tony's depression was portrayed, most of the time he's quite capable and able. But his language is very negative and at times everything just overwhelms him. Depression being portrayed in the media is something which needs to occur more often, especially complex and intelligent portrayals like this one. It's a major thing for the show to tackle, and they do it well.

Depression and mobsters, seems like two of the big American issues all wrapped up into one package.

Performance-wise there are quite a few which are of great and worthy note. As I mentioned in the DVD review before James Gandolfini is dynamite as Tony, Edie Falco is also great as his wife Carmella, and many of the other actors give believable and amazing performances as well. But the major praise in the season would have to be given to the lovely Lorraine Bracco and most of all Nancy Marchand as the completely Machavellian Livia Soprano. I could see what she was up to fairly early on, or at least suspected and gradually had it proven. The passive agressive manipulation of her family is something to really behold, and the moment where Dr Melfi suggests that she might be a borderline personality was one which just rang true.

Another thing I feel the show really succeeds on is the rhythm of it, while the season as a whole progresses with a gradual storyline, each individual episode rises and falls with it's own beat. You can watch a single episode and enjoy it somewhat standalone as there's a story in each episode with hanging threads that connect each. But the season also holds together as a complete entity. This means it lies somewhere between the extremes like Murder One/The Wire with their ongoing season long storylines and House M.D./Star Trek which extensively use the episodic story of the week format. I'd compare the weighting of the storytelling to that of The Shield on this front - some ongoing stories, some which are wrapped up inside the episode. It's a good style, but a hard one to achieve.

Ultimately I'm highly impressed, some of the episodes in particular really stood out; now the first episode was decent, but not gripping. But after that things really took off. College was one of those episodes which was great, mixing the relative mundanity of taking your daughter to various universities against the issue of dealing with an ex-wiseguy turned rat. The future in one hand, the past in the other - this, combined with the viseral and unrelenting brutality of the execution makes it probably the first 'memorable' episode.

Speaking of which, I do adore the violence in this show, it's not glamourised and it's often harsh and very messy. Something which could shock, but at times it amuses - mostly because of the impliments used. Seeing someone whacked in the head with a service bell (ding! ding! ding!) or a phone handset really does provoke a laughter reaction. It's a trick that Evil Dead 2 achieves as well, mixing the horror of the situation with something comical - it blunts the blow from watching and make it a little easier to enjoy. Of course, the killing in College is not amusing - well except for maybe Tony's sudden appearance, but after that it becomes very messy.

There's absolutely loads more I could write about here, but I think that's enough until I've watched the second season. Suffice to say; I think the show is very special indeed.


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