If you’ve never heard of the tv show, The Sopranos, you must’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so. It’s not that the show is THAT great, but it’s been apart of our pop culture for that long.

When most people talk about ‘mob movies’, The Sopranos is always one or two sentences nearby. You know, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Sopranos’ – something like that.

What’s it about? It’s about gun slinging, dope dealing and car chasing. It’s about yummy Italian sandwiches and pasta. Lots of cursing, emotions and Alpha males butting heads.

Ok but what’s the show really about? At the core, it’s about Family. Family with your immediate loved ones: your wife, your kids, your brother-in-law. It’s about Family with those you grew up with who will always have your back. Even though you’re not related by blood, the bond is thicker than blood. It’s about Family through money and business. It’s about Family just because sometimes, you have nothing else in life that gives you a better reason to keep on going.

The Sopranos came after the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas and features prominent actors from that film including Bracco (Dr. Melfi) and Michael Imperioli (Christopher Soprano). It also shares its nervous mixture of comic bonhomie and sudden, violent murder, either calculated or out of sheer rage. The Sopranos, too, has a jukebox for a soundtrack, blasting out the emotional prompts of incidental music; it’s as if to say that in these postmodern times, the mafia-as-entertainment is a firmly embedded part of popular culture. The occasional Godfather references are a reminder that the series is conscious of its genre. 

James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco in the pilot episode of “The Sopranos.” Source: HBO

“If I’m New To The Show, What’s The ONE Episode I Should Watch?”

Don’t you hate questions like that? But yet, they’re asked all the time. Fans argue vehemently over which episode is the series’s high point. “College?” “Pine Barrens?” “Whitecaps?” But the first “Sopranos” episode — sometimes listed as “Pilot” and sometimes as “The Sopranos” — isn’t just one of the series’s best, it is easily among the best first episodes of any TV drama. In a tightly constructed 60 minutes, Chase, as the writer and director, skillfully introduces the premise, themes and tone of the show within a largely self-contained story that would be a classic even if HBO had never ordered any more.

Watch Episode 1, Season 1. Framed by two therapy sessions between Tony and his new psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), “The Sopranos” pilot defies expectations at every turn — beginning with the way it compares the familiar mob milieu of seedy dives and old Italian-American neighborhoods with the yuppie trappings of the suburbs. The modern version of organized crime on this show isn’t just about gambling, labor unions, prostitution and hijacking. It is also about junk bonds and health care scams. And it’s more than a little sad.

So What, So What, So Whaaaaaat?

Before Tony Soprano, leading male characters on the small screen were fantasies: brave policemen, perfect Fathers, men whose actions and morals fitted neatly into cosy story arcs that repeated, week in week out.

The Sopranos changed that forever. It made TV grow up. David Chase and HBO proved audiences in their living room were far smarter than they’d ever been given credit for, and ever since, studios have upped their game, writers have stopped seeing TV as a stepping-stone to cinema, and Hollywood’s most ambitious actors have fallen over themselves to find a small screen role as profound, challenging and as loved as Tony Soprano.

But let’s not forget one thing. Aside from transforming the TV landscape, what James Gandolfini, David Chase and everyone else involved in the show left behind was six seasons of drama that gets better every time you watch it, from the dated but still brilliant first series to the daring, artistic flourishes of the last, The Sopranos remains the most absorbing, funny, shake-your-head brilliant show ever made.

So while you still can, catch The Sopranos on Amazon Prime or on HBO GO absolutely Free with Streaming when you sign up for their monthly membership.