I Finally Started Binging ‘The Sopranos’: One Woman’s Story

Image by HBO.

The day was January 1, 2019. I had spent the morning sleeping, the afternoon cleaning up my sticky-floored, New Year’s-ruined apartment, activities that were interspersed with a variety of caloric intakes and movie viewings, including You Got Served (does not really hold up) and Paddington 2 (phenomenal!). Dusk had come and gone, and the remains of my third Seamless order in a row was congealing on the living room coffee table. And then, the thought came to me.

“What if,” I said to my viewing companion, “we started The Sopranos?”

It’s possible the subconscious of my brain knew the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere was coming up, Sopranos news floating past it like refuse on the top of whatever body of water ran past that shore bank where Christopher idiotically tried to dig up that body he had already buried in Episode 8 of Season 1, entitled “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” But there’s no real indication why the slow trickle of news articles about a show that had been off the air for over a decade would have primed me to feel finally ready to watch it, when I had had many opportunities to dive into it before—a program so beloved that I already knew what its final shot was (and that people had been very unhappy about it). My family didn’t have HBO when The Sopranos first aired, and the blogosphere was only in its nascent stage, but I was well aware it had captured the nation’s attention; after all, I had lived through the summer my dad recovered from heart surgery, which he handled by watching all the back seasons that were then available on VHS, supplemented with a heavy dose of the Food Network, for emotional balance, I assume.

The Sopranos

Credit: HBO

It was clear to me then that this show was, to its fans, something very special. Indeed, shortly after this binge, my dad went up to Michael Imperioli, whose children attended my elementary school, during pick-up one day. He mentioned Christopher getting shot in the foot, and jokingly asked for confirmation that that had been “pay back,” references he would later explain to me as I likely blinked back in response. Michael—I can call him that because now that I have watched 10 episodes of his show, we are good friends—confirmed that yes, in the aforementioned Episode 8 when Christopher idiotically shoots that dude in the foot in the bakery, it was pay back for when his character Spider got shot in the foot in Goodfellas, which like most of The Sopranos, I have also not seen. I didn’t understand the reference then, but now that I do, I can say I’m certain my father was the first avid fan to ever bring it up to Michael, and I’m also certain it was not annoying for Michael at all.

Years passed, and The Sopranos ended. I was in college, and still didn’t have cable, though that did not stop me from enjoying the programs it hath wrought; I gobbled up Mad Men as if I had spent a life starved of mid-century furniture and was trying to make up for lost time. Though The Sopranos had been off the air for quite some time, I occasionally dipped my toe into the steady stream of interviews with its cast, or pieces about the show’s significance, or oral histories, or whatever other format entertainment websites chose to celebrate their now-dead King of Quality TV. Eventually, a little something called HBOGo came to be, and on a whim—or perhaps having been critiqued by far too many people for not having seen it—I attempted to watch the show myself in 2013.

It was June and I was subletting a room in an apartment where nothing was mine but two duffle bags and a computer that I’d recently had to shell out a good amount of money to fix for no apparent reason. One oppressively warm, lonely night I attempted to sit through the first episode and found myself bored, struggling to connect. Ducks? Who cares! I was annoyed by these violent men and the women they sidelined. I had to grapple with them doing my work at a feminist website, and in my own personal life, and I bristled at having to handle fictional versions of them in my down time.

The Sopranos

The ducks. THE DUCKS. Photo credit: HBO.

I thought that might be it for me and the show, but as it goes, things shifted slowly. Take your TV remote and fast-forward to the aforementioned January 1, 2019. As they had been during my last attempt, all episodes were available on HBOGo. But several months prior my partner had floated the idea of finding “a series to get into,” a sentence that makes me feel every bit of my three decades on earth (The Wire was rejected—for now—as it was deemed “a huge bummer 98 percent of the time”). I accidentally attended a Sopranos-themed birthday party and found it quaint. Two friends dressed up as Tony Soprano and some character I don’t think I’ve met yet for Halloween, and I found it quite charming. And so somehow, finally, I was ready. I wanted to sink my teeth into a series with an end, something that would make me feel accomplished.

I watched The Sopranos, I could say to people! It helped, of course, that I had someone to watch it with, who could explain things I didn’t understand (“What’s a made man?” I asked, free of embarrassment, while viewing one of the first episodes). The issue of the Too Many Bad Men remained; as was the case in 2013, I don’t really want to deal with them, but sometimes, one can and must overlook such an impulse to function.

As you can tell from the substance of this “piece,” if we were to generously describe it that way, after the two decades it has taken me to finally watch The Sopranos, I still I have not seen much of it, only 12 episodes total at the time you are reading this. I can tell you that I do think what I have seen is very good. (One might argue I am ready for it to be good now, in a way I was not before.) I watched nine episodes of the first season in two days, an extremely January feel. After the second night, I had an extensive dream about the show. The next morning, I found myself humming the theme song on my way to work. The Sopranos has infiltrated my life quickly—if you consider 20-odd years quickly.

I’ve marveled at the many beautiful cuts of cured meats that seem to work their way into every scene, and at James Gandolfini’s sex appeal as he plays a murderer with a fully receded hairline who cheats on his wife. I’ve puzzled my way through cinematography weirder than I expected the show to hold, and thought to myself, yes, I really should finally see The Godfather, but does it make more sense to do that after I’ve finished the show, or during? Though I knew he was a cast member and am an avid fan of the E Street Band, I found Stevie Van Zandt so became Silvio I didn’t realize it was him at first. I’ve been confused about Tony’s mother’s motivations. I want Dr. Melfi to be my therapist as I find her clothing palette of neutral tones and accompanying rimless glasses quite soothing. I want more scenes with Edie Falco. I assume every character I love (like Hesh) will soon be dead, but am preventing myself from googling until I’m done. I don’t understand why Junior was so embarrassed about oral sex!!! Also, he has great style.

I’ve found The Sopranos much funnier than I anticipated, though many people have warned me that it gets very dark. This is concerning, and I see a future in which I might have to take a bit of a break, as I did when I was watching Friday Night Lights and felt at one point that the characters really were living and breathing and playing football—a sport I hate and yet somehow loved during the duration of that show—in Texas. I’m already thinking way too much about death, so this potential break is 90 percent certain. But as Christopher would say, it happens.

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