I blame Alan Sepinwall, I really do. He recently started a revisit of Season 1 of The Sopranos over at HitFix, and in particular how firmly the show hits the ground running in its first episode. It’s been a while since I watched the show — I caught up on the first four seasons on disc before catching the last two when they aired on HBO, and haven’t been back since then — so I figured I’d watch that first episode and see what Sepinwall was talking about. And now here I am ten episodes later and it looks like I’m going to do the whole damn thing all over again.
I missed out on The Sopranos early on. I didn’t have HBO and the internet was still figuring out the whole pop culture thing, so I didn’t really hear too much about it aside from the regular Monday morning conversations the show engendered. So I sort of knew what was going on, but all second-hand, without getting immersed in it. I fluttered around the edges of it until I finally got off my ass and watched the early seasons before Season 5 kicked in. And yes, I kicked myself for not having gotten on board sooner and missing the height of its zeitgeist. But I was there for the finale, in all its maddening, perfect glory, an ending I thought put us exactly where Tony would be for the rest of his life: confused, unsettled, unsure of what was going to happen.
That was eight years ago and I haven’t been back since, so this feels well-timed. Enough time has gone by that the show feels somewhat new, even if the beats and plot points are familiar. There are things happening now that I was sure didn’t happen until later seasons, and god everyone looks so young. Which means it’s also a bittersweet reminder of what we lost when James Gandolfini passed away far too soon.
One the one hand, the weekly tease of episodic television can help draw out the pleasure of long-form storytelling, letting you savor and anticipate. But it’s also pretty great to have all six seasons of a show available at your fingertips to burn through as fast as you like. There’s something about wrapping yourself up in something so completely that you go through three, four, five episodes in a sitting, only forcing yourself to pull away for fear it’ll end too soon. And especially so when it’s something like an old friend you’re getting reacquainted with. You fall back into familiar feelings and patterns, and you realize how great it was to have them around, even if the newness is gone.
Right now, I’m in the midst of Big Pussy’s arc as the rat (an example of something I thought didn’t come up so soon), and even knowing the inexorable conclusion, it’s still riveting, maybe because I know what’s coming, and it makes me sad. It makes me wish Tony was right and it really was Jimmy, so that our core group doesn’t have to go through that awful scene on the boat. That’s the power of shows like this. Like Silvio is fond of saying, no matter how long you’ve been out, they pull you back in.