The Sopranos is my favourite and possibly the most important television series of all time. It was the first HBO produced show to truly crack the mainstream and trailblazed for future HBO properties like Game of Thrones and The Wire and altered the television audience’s perception of antiheroes and trailblazed for characters like Walter White. It’s the Neon Genesis Evangelion of western television, it forever altered everything that followed it, there’s the pre-Sopranos and post-Sopranos eras of television. As Evangelion built upon the ubiquitous mech routes of the anime industry and in Japanese Culture, The Sopranos built upon the glorified mobster genre of American Culture. These shows have several dualistic similarities like abstract and frequent use of symbolism and exploration of psychological philosophy, but I would like to focus on the humble beginnings of David Chase’s vision of the Sopranos in this article. My recent re-watch of the Sopranos pilot yielded some interesting observations about the first outing of the to-be franchise.
The pilot has retconning issues, more than I expected. Initially the most compelling and fundamentally shaking contradiction is that Tony is out-rightly stated to already be the boss of the family. Characters remark throughout that Junior is unhappy that he’s taking orders from Tony and how he wants to be the boss of the family. Junior out-rightly stated that Tony may control all of North Jersey, but he doesn’t control his uncle Junior, this all implies that in the pilot Tony is already the boss of the family. Obviously at this point of the show, canonically Jackie Aprille is still acting boss of the family, but he is strikingly absent from this entire episode. Besides this major inconsistency the characterisation of nearly all the characters are unlike their eventuality in the rest of the series. Tony’s accent is different to how it would develop to become later in the series, Silvio is seemingly not a part of the main crew but only used as a strip club owner and isn’t included in sit-downs, always leaving before the real shit is discussed. Other smaller elements are altered like Adrianna only being a waitress at Artie’s restaurant, while Christopher is shown in bed with another woman, however I did think it was neat that Adrianna was present at all. Also, Tony’s Russian side-chick is re-casted in all futured episodes, because she is blonde here but will have black hair for the remainder of her run. Ultimately, the show is more driven by comedy and is a lot more outlandish, like when Tony runs over a dude that owes him money in broad daylight with countless witnesses, whereas the show become more serious nearly immediately.
Additionally, many future plot events are foreshadowed in the opening episode. Christopher’s overwhelming ambition to become, and interest in film making is established in one of the final scenes of the episode. He even drops that his cousin is dating a development girl in Hollywood (D-Girl), which become the entire subplot of an episode in a later season. Tony drops the line about Junior making fun of him for not having the makings of a varsity athlete, which will famously become a reoccurring, hilarious running gag in the future. Most importantly and the foreshadow with the most thematic relevance is Tony’s fascination will the ‘strong and silent type,’ Gary Cooper character. This is a persona that Tony idolises and attempts to be, and is a massive aspect of his characterisation, but I hope to delve into this element much more in future projects, it’s just important to point out its early establishment here. These little details about Christopher, and Tony’s mention of the varsity athlete comment were rewarding to hear on my re-watch and added some depth to those future elements, proving that the team behind the Sopranos was clearly paying attention to their product.
All-in-all the lookback on the Sopranos pilot was an interesting endeavour and I learnt quite a bit about the early strategy with the Sopranos. Comparing this initial episode to any episode from Season 6 interestingly highlights major differences in tone and quality. This episode is entertaining but in comparison to later outings by the show this simply doesn’t compare and stands out as an outlier.