How I Started Watching “The Sopranos”

How I Started Watching “The Sopranos”

On June 10, 2007, I was on the road, and spent the night in a hotel. I don’t remember where I was going or why, and I only know the date because I looked it up; it’s the original air date of a certain television episode.

What happened was, that night, I decided to watch a little TV before going to bed. The hotel had HBO, which I did not have at home. At home, we had satellite TV, but my roommates paid for it and I did not ever make demands of what programming they should get. Since the hotel had a channel I did not normally have access to, naturally I chose to check it out. As it turned out, The Sopranos was about to come on. Of course, I had heard a great deal about this show, which was a cultural mainstay of the era, but I had never watched an episode. So I gave it a go.

(mild spoilers follow so if you don’t want any at all just don’t read the rest of this post)

I liked what I saw. Even though I had no back story at all, other than knowing that James Gandolfini portrayed Tony Soprano, I could follow along, kind of. The guy’s son was rebellious and annoying, and there was some kind of gang war or something happening. There was some threat to the family. They went to a diner, and this guy came in – maybe he was a bad guy? – and then suddenly the show just stopped. The screen went blank for a bit. Then the credits came on. It was some kind of glitch; probably the hotel’s fault. I didn’t think much of it, and went to sleep.

The famous last scene of The Sopranos.

The next day or so, I went online and checked the news feeds (I was already getting my news exclusively via the web by this time). I learned that I had watched the series finale of The Sopranos. The first episode I ever watched was the last episode of the show! And the final scene had intentionally cut abruptly to black, which was generating a big hubbub online. The creator, David Chase, had apparently mystified everyone. What I gather now is that he chose not to provide a conclusive story arc for the main character, which would have resolved the show’s fundamental moral question – can a guy who steals and kills for a living really be just an American guy, with all the same problems as the rest of us? And why did America spend nearly a decade celebrating this professional crook?

Now, it might be for the best for me that there was no resolution, because even though I watched the last episode first, it really wasn’t a spoiler. Nothing had been concluded and my appetite was simply whetted. I ended up watching the entire series a couple years later, by renting the discs on Netflix. Yes, I mean the physical DVDs, mailed to me periodically. That was how it was done in the 2000s, before streaming took off.

I enjoyed the show tremendously – it’s well deserved of the many accolades it has received. In my mind, it is the show that inaugurates the more hard-hitting, stark, and mature age of television that we live in today – though I know the trend was underway throughout the 1990s. It’s also a show that culturally defines the Bush years, along with another one which started in the same year of 1999 – The West Wing.

This blog post was inspired by the fact that the family is now rewatching (adults) / being introduced to (teens) the show. What happened was, we wanted to watch the premiere of Godzilla vs. Kong, but without going to a theater, since it’s pandemic times. So we got a subscription to HBO Max. Well, there was The Sopranos thumbnail staring at us from the screen, and since we like to have something to watch together on evenings when everyone is free, we decided to make it our new show. And personally I am enjoying it the second time around as much as I did the first time.

I have more to say about The Sopranos – a review of sorts – but I’ll publish that in a follow-up post.

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