30 Pilots in 30 Days: The Sopranos

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, deals with personal and professional issues in his home and business life, which affects his mental state and ends up seeking professional psychiatric counseling.

Why I picked it: The Sopranos has the distinction of being the oldest pilot on my list. While it’s not the first HBO original drama, it’s the first one to be relevant. It helped usher in a new era for HBO, one where the original content would be as much of a selling point as movies with all the swearing and nudity intact. The Sopranos did for HBO what House of Cards did for Netflix, which means it must’ve pretty damn good.

What I liked: One of the things that caught me off guard but in a good way was that the plot has relatively little to do with the fact that Tony is a mob boss. We know that he collapsed mysteriously but doesn’t want to call it a panic attack. We know he doesn’t really get along with his wife, but then who on tv does? His daughter sneaks out of the house, his mother annoys him. In a lot of ways Tony is just like us.

Yet I didn’t feel like the mob elements were missing either. We still got a scene here and a scene here to show us that the Sopranos are a crime family even though the word “mob” is never spoken among any of them. The script does a great job of revealing the main hook of the show without beating us over the head with it.

I also find it interesting how it’s still unclear whether or not Tony’s family knows that he’s in the mob. There’s potential for a serious OH SHIT moment when they finally find out and a pilot should always hint at the OH SHIT moments to come. If the family does already know, it’s a cool choice to just have them accept the mob aspects as a  normal part of their life, since odds are they’ve known for a while.

I also need to give mad props to James Gandolfini. I usually focus more on writing than acting in these reviews but I can already tell that his performance is one of the crucial ingredients for the show’s success. He makes Tony relatable without exactly being likable, and that works wonderfully.

What I didn’t like: This is another one of those shows that seems good in the moment I was watching it,  but looking back nothing about it seems particularly memorable. And keep in mind that only a few hours have elapsed between me watching the pilot and me writing this review. There’s just something about the whole thing that didn’t really click, though I can see how it might click given another episode or two.

One of the issues here is that we don’t really delve into any characters besides Tony. That would be fine, except I’m not sure Tony is interesting enough to carry this thing by himself. Yes, he’s a mob boss and yes, he still struggles with typical middle-aged-white-male-on-tv problems. But he’s not really compelling the way I need him to be compelling. Elliott was able to carry the Mr. Robot pilot by himself because he had a fascinating outlook on the world around him. He also had severe social anxiety, so it made sense for him to not have super close relationships with people.

I’m still not sure how Tony really feels about being a mob boss. I don’t really get why he makes the choices he makes or what exactly the stakes are. I mean I guess if he gets caught he could go to jail, but in terms of his marriage or his relationship or his mom, I’m not sure. Tony also has a line of work that seems incredibly dependent on relationships with other people. A mob boss has to have people he can trust, even if they’re not his actual friends. We just don’t really see those relationships in action here, even though they’d probably be really interesting.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really? I mean I’d probably enjoy it if I did watch but I’m not super pumped to watch episode two.

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