TV Nostalgia: The Sopranos

I have a dozen or so articles on traveling and living in Europe and moving to the East Coast that are drafted in some form or another. But let's take a break from that and talk about what's really important for a second: television! When I moved to the East Coast, I purged my DVDs, getting rid of about a hundred, including several television box sets. I only kept the movies I couldn't live without and two TV sets - Buffy and The Sopranos. This week, I've put together two articles on the television shows that had a major impact on me personally and the medium in general. Up first, the behemoth The Sopranos, then the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer later this week.

While wrapping up in Germany, I needed a television show to watch. With the move and finding a new job and everything else, I wanted something old and comfortable. And Amazon Prime kept suggesting I watch The Sopranos. So I took them up on it. Advertising, it works. My last few weekend trips around Europe, I downloaded a couple of episodes with the Amazon app and watched them. Somewhere along the way, I discovered the Sopranos podcast "No Fucking Ziti" and started listening to their takes on each episode before I would watch the next.

Two months later, I'm caught up with the Ziti guys. Season four is finished and I'm trying to wait for them to post again before I start season five (they usually have a break between seasons).

But I'm so glad I finally took the effort to rewatch the show. If you haven't watched it in a few years, give it another try. It's funnier, more interesting, and just better than you remember. At least that's been my experience. I've noticed that shows that are more character-driven as opposed to plot-driven are more re-watchable. I could absolutely see myself just restarting the pilot after I finish the series finale of The Sopranos. Similarly, I can watch any random episode of Mad Men any day of the week. Lately, I've been cycling through It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, selecting whatever episode Netflix or FX Now provides me with (side note, Netflix should really consider some type of 'shuffle' option for their television shows). Shows that are plot-driven, not so much? Breaking Bad is a good, well-crafted show. But I don't think I've seen an episode since my grandma bought me the fancy box set (in the shape of a chemical container) two Christmases ago. You watch a show the first time for the plot. You watch it a second, third, or fourth time for the characters.

I started watching The Sopranos in high school. Even though we had HBO, my siblings and I weren't able to watch The Sopranos or Sex and the City (I'm not sure why, but the two are always conflated for me). One weekend, when I was probably fifteen or sixteen I asked my dad to rent to the Sex and the City DVDs for me since I was alone all weekend (you had to be 18 to rent them). And so he rented the first season and I did nothing but watch Sex and the City and the floodgates were open. I caught up and started watching the series live at season five. And then my brother and I started in on The Sopranos in the same way. 

There is something very timely about watching the show. It was the late nineties, early oughts. The only way to see it was find it on HBO or get the DVDs somewhere. After the initial rental from Blockbuster, I bought them at a used DVD store. There was no other way to watch the series. Today, I can watch it on Amazon Prime or HBO Go. If I'm at my parents, I can use their On Demand functionality. And there's always those box sets. I remember my junior year of college, when the final season debuted, and talking to my dad between classes on the phone not about class or what was happening back home but a detailed description of the show, which I couldn't watch until I went home. Also, television recaps weren't really a thing yet. Can you imagine if The Sopranos was on now? The think pieces! I distinctly remember watching the series finale. I was at my sorority house, the only fan of the show there (everyone else just wanted to see what happened). I spent most of the episode explaining who was who and what was going on. Then there's the iconic ending, when my sorority sisters and I, along with probably most of the viewing audience, wondered what happened and considered calling our cable provider.

The Sopranos is an excellent television show that changed our television landscape and was instrumental in creating the golden age of TV we have today. Right now, I've got Big Little Lies on in the background and I can't imagine we would get to a place where there's a television show starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Adam Scott, and Shalene Woodley without Tony. But for me it's also a deeply personal thing, coming at the time where I was transitioning from teenager to adult, starting to understand the world in a different way. It created bonds with my brother and father that wouldn't have existed without them. It's iconic television but it's also my brother and me hanging out on the couch in the rec room one summer, watching episode after episode for the first time. Wanting to savor each episode but needing to know what happens next.

Watching it today, fifteen years later, I'm struck by how well-developed the characters are, how funny and intelligent it is. Thirty-year-old me picks up on a lot fifteen-year-old me missed. But there's also a freedom to watching it knowing how it all ends. What happens to Adriana and Christopher. Kind of Tony. There's no rush to get to the next plot point but just to enjoy the episode for what it is, each perfect line with its perfect delivery.

Finally, I do want to recommend the podcast. Not just "No Fucking Ziti," but any show with a podcast. I've subscribed to ones for The AmericansWest Wing, and Buffy. Whenever I get around to those shows (rewatches for the latter two), I want to also visit the podcasts. It's a chance to slow down, reflect on and enjoy each episode instead of just pushing the 'next' button. It forces me to really think about the episode. There's usually some analysis, some point I missed. And with a show like The Sopranos, you need to pay attention or you'll miss something. Put down your phone, close the laptop. Just enjoy it.