The Sopranos Turns 20 (+ Top 10 All Time Sopranos Episodes)

Northern New Jersey has a lot of cultural crossover with my homeland of Long Island, New York. I’m also a sucker for a) crime stories b) with a lot of humor infused in them that c) take place in the New York metro area. For many people of my general demographic and generation, Goodfellas is our The Godfather, our cultural touchstone that we immediately relate to. So when The Sopranos showed up on HBO 20 years ago — something familiar (mob story about some gangsters and their families in New Jersey) and yet completely groundbreaking and original — it piqued my interest to say the least.

I’m not at all ashamed to say I’ve rewatched the series a good number of times (often during the holidays), and it holds up remarkably well, even against other TV shows in the GOAT (greatest of all time) conversation. There are only a few episodes where I’m tempted to fast forward (“Christopher,” and “the one where Tony hangs out with his dad’s mistress”), and I’m riveted and pick up on new things every time out.

It will be fascinating to see what I think of as the Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul universe will look like when that overarching story is complete. I can foresee a healthy Sopranos versus BB/BCS debate for not only greatest crime drama, but greatest television history of all time for many years to come.

If you’re a TV nerd, you’re probably aware of TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz. Once upon a time, the pair both worked at the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Tony Soprano’s “hometown paper” (and the very same that he famously picks up at the foot of his driveway, bathrobe-adorned, in many episodes). The duo has written a new book called The Sopranos Sessions, which is getting some buzz, and includes an interview with David Chase in which the series creator “slips” when discussing the still hotly debated “Don’t Stop Believin'” final moment of the series (here’s more on that).

Zoller Seitz and Sepinwall have each proclaimed their Top 10 Sopranos episodes of all time. The two also have a great debate about the final scene, in which they both make well positioned and opposing arguments.

It’s a fantastic piece packed with gems. Here’s one:

  • I think the ending is sadder and more powerful if you think, “All those people he killed, all those people he loved that died, all the stuff he’s been through personally, including getting shot and being in a coma — none of that really made much of a dent in this guy’s thick skull.”

And here’s my Top 10 Sopranos episodes of all time:

  1. Pine Barrens
  2. Long Term Parking
  3. Marco Polo
  4. University
  5. Soprano Home Movies
  6. Funhouse
  7. College
  8. Whitecaps
  9. Pilot
  10. Made in America

Honorable mention: so many… but special call out to:

  • Amour Fou
  • Second Opinion
  • Employee of the Month

Let me know what yours are if you like playing this game!

And if you want to go even deeper, check out this excerpt from the book, in which I learned a lot of cool stuff about the creation of The Sopranos that I didn’t know before (Bobby DeNiro as the proposed lead in an early filmic version?). And here’s a fun piece too, “In Defense of The Sopranos’ Shagginess.”

And for even more on The Sopranos legacy, this New York Times feature is super cool, covering “the 20 best TV dramas” since The Sopranos, and includes fun full screen video and other bells and whistles. The Mad Men and Breaking Bad sections are great, and I love that they included Atlanta, even though it’s only run two seasons to date and is a half-hour dramedy that can be interpreted in many different ways. (It’s also the best show currently on television.) And respect too for including the dynamite Halt and Catch Fire under honorable mentions.

Pull quote, from Zazie Beetz, who plays Vanessa on Atlanta:

  • “The show doesn’t have to land jokes, it just has to land truth.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.


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