Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Sopranos: Top 10

As part of our paper's quest to outdo the rest of the world in "Sopranos" finale coverage, I was asked to put together a list of the ten best episodes. As I say in the introduction to the column, I was half-inclined to just pick all eight of this season's episodes, grab two random ones from season one and be done with it, but in the end I decided to put slightly more thought into it. Here's the list, in chronological order (and if you want some minor justification for why, say, "Amour Fou" makes it and "Pine Barrens" doesn't, click the above link):
Honorable mention: "Pine Barrens," "Long-Term Parking," "Isabella," "Funhouse," "The Weight," "Members Only," "The Knight in White Satin Armor," "University," "Soprano Home Movies" and the rest of this current season.

Now feel free to tell me why I'm an idiot.

40 comments:

Diana said...

Pine Barrens will always be my #1. The thought of Pauly and Christopher fighting over those packets of ketchup still cracks me up.

Diana
http://www.mediaobsessed.com

Jim Teacher said...

Not on point, but: The awesomeness of this last half-season has redeemed this show, for me. Anybody else?

Abbie said...

This show has always been awesome for me.

But I have to rank Pine Barrens pretty high also. Paulie and his missing shoe.

Paulie will always be my favorite character on this show.

Adam said...

"Long Term Parking" still makes the list for me, no question, if only because of that brief glimpse Adriana has during that last car ride of the sign on I-95 just north of Baltimore, her final fantasy of being free before being snapped back into Silvio's reality.

Others I'd consider: "The Knight in White Satin Armor" ("We buried him. On a hill. Overlooking a little river. With pine cones all around."), and "The Test Dream". But between your two lists, you've covered it well.

Brian said...

Slightly paraphrased, after Paulie gets a phone call from Tony...

Tony: The guy used to be an ex-KGB commando or some shit. He killed 16 Chechen rebels. He was with the interior department.
Paulie: What T? You're breaking up.
[the call is lost]
Paulie, to Christopher: You're never gonna believe this. The guy we're chasing--he killed 16 Czechoslovakians. And he used to be an interior decorator!
Christopher pauses to think, then says: His apartment looked like shit!

I like "Pine Barrens" if for no other reason than it shows that drama writers can often do better comedy than comedy writers.

Dark Tyler said...

Yep, count me in on the "Pine Barrens" camp, too.

Alan, no season 2 episodes? It just happened or you just don't love it as much? I don't recall what your opinion on that season is, but it's my personal favorite after the masterpiece that Season 7 is.

(And by the way, are we calling it "season 7" now? What's the official numbering from HBO? Not that it matters, but I'm a geek, so sue me. :P)

dez said...

I think it's being referred to as "6b" but I don't know if that's official, dark tyler.

"Pine Barrens" is also one of my two ten eps. I was certain Chris would kill Paulie or vice versa.

dez said...

^ "Two" should be "top," d'oh!

Filipe said...

I'd drop the final four and replace them with Funhouse, Pine Barrens, Long-Term Parking and Walk Like a Man. Very good list, BTW (I'd have all those that I drop in the honorable mention list).

Alan Sepinwall said...

"Pine Barrens" was by far the toughest cut of the bunch, just because it's so revered. But I watched it again a year ago (for a podcast commentary track with Matt and Sars from TWoP that wound up never materializing), and while it was still funny, it didn't hold up nearly as much. A lot of what made it seem so amazing was the novelty factor, the unusual setting and situation, and absent that, it was hard for me to include it at the expense of some other episodes, especially the mind-blowing stuff they've been doing lately.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No disrespect intended towards season two, and if this was a top 20 list, "Funhouse" and "Knight in White Satin Armor" would both be on it. Overall, season two was a hell of a lot better than the generally sucky season four, but season four had two all-timer episodes in it in "Whoever Did This" and "Whitecaps." Just goes to show how silly doing this kind of exercise can be.

Alan Sepinwall said...

HBO considers this a continuation of the sixth season, purely for contractual purposes (it saved them from having to negotiate raises for the entire cast, even though a handful of people like Sirico and Van Zandt held out anyway), but I refuse to call it that. "Kaisha" was very clearly a finale, as we only see those Soprano family tableaus at the ends of seasons. A year passed in both real time and show time between "Kaisha" and "Soprano Home Movies." It's a new season.

Chris said...

Am I the only one that was completely enamored with "Boca"? Tony demonstrates a semblance of a moral conscious at the inisistence of Artie and Melfi, and reports the local authorities about the improprieties of Meadow's soccer coach.
And it is revealed that Junior likes giving oral, which serves as the tipping point between him and Tony after his girlfriend gossips about it.

Agree with "Amour Fou", though, it always seems to slip through the cracks in these conversations but I can't think of a more suspenseful, plot driven episode other than "The Blue Comet".

Edward Copeland said...

I had already been planning to post my own 10 for this weekend, though I'm wimping out and going chronologically and leaving out season 6 episodes, to avoid spoiler problems for those who haven't seen them yet.

Anonymous said...

You're right. It's impossible to do a list of the top 10 Sopranos episodes. I admire your courage though, because certainly now everyone will have their own reason for why you are an idiot. Here's mine. No episode from season 4, 5 or 6 should make a top episode list before every episode from season 1, 2 and 3 is already on that list. I make an exception for the episode where they went to Italy. That one sucked. Also, by season 6, I mean the 1st half. I am in agreement with you on what you call season 7. These episodes stand among the best of the series. Here's a trivia question. What is the only episode of the Sopranos to contain a pre-credit cold open? Now everyone can feel free to comment on why I'm an idiot.

Joe F said...

That would be 46 Long I believe, the second episode.

SJ said...

Is it just me or is every season of the show "just brilliant"?

I watched the first 5 seasons on DVD (about one episode a day) and maybe that makes it better? The week long breaks during Season 6 Pt. 1 were annoying to me and I do think that it was the weakest season. I bought the DVD for that season too but haven't watched it...maybe it gets better with a 2nd viewing?

Needless to say, this season has been astonishing. "Chasing It" was the only weak episode for me.

Anonymous said...

I've got to put in a vote for "Employee of the Month." It was brutal, and stunned me when I first saw it, but it shows one of the few times a character on this show EVER took the moral high ground.

JD said...

I tend to agree that the first five seasons of this show are particularly strong when you watch them on DVD in multi-episode sittings. Actually, what's most striking is how the earlier episodes, as brilliant as they are, lack some of the richness and nuance that Chase and Co. have brought to the table since Season 4. What some people see as a lack of forward momentum, I see as the show's bid for immortality, layering deeper meaning and character development atop what was already a stellar genre show. So what if Chase sacrifices a little bit of forward momentum in a given season to create wonderful character moments?

Alan, what I find surprising is that, while I agree Season 4 and the first half of Season 6 are the weakest of the bunch, it was those slow patches that made what followed that much more fulfilling. For example, "Whoever Did This" and "Whitecaps" would not have been as blistering had it not been for the slow burn that preceeded them. The same goes for Season 6. Chase lost some momentum in dragging out the Vito storyline and then seemingly rushing his timeline in the mediocre "Kaisha" to wrap things up, but thematically, especially upon second viewing on DVD, the first half of Season 6 is solid. It asks the question: Can a man change? Eugene didn't think so. Vito thought so for a second and that blasted that guy in the back of the head because he didn't want to fill out an accident report. Most importantly, we realize that Tony squandered the greatest opportunity he ever had -- his shooting offered him a chance to redefine himself and do the right thing (which he tried to do by reasoning with Phil on his sick bed). Instead, as we've seen in this season, he's sunk deeper than before. Tony has finally given in to the darkness and become the person he despises the most -- his mother.

For me, none of the fireworks this season would have been nearly as effective if that groundwork wasn't properly laid to begin with. That said, I don't disagree that this show has a tendency to meander. But, on a whole, that is one of its strengths, a willingless to not take shortcuts and have the guts to be as mundane as the people it's portraying. I think that's one of the reasons it will continue to stand up to repeat viewings. The Sopranos is a show built for DVD.

Alan Sepinwall said...

JD, the first half of season six (which includes both of the episodes I put on my list) is brilliant. As I've written before, the problem came around the midway point. The episodes up through around Vito's arrival in New Hampshire were all written with the idea that that would be the final season. The episodes after were written with the knowledge that they would have to stretch certain elements out to get to Chase's planned ending.

As I wrote in the latest Sopranos Rewind column, this season's episodes have made most of the back half of season six look like placeholder shows.

SJ said...

I second the vote for "Employee of the month." Just great writing, and it deservedly won an Emmy.

TL said...

Totally agree re: Amour Fou vs. Pine Barrens. I've always found Pine Barrens (and College, for that matter) slightly overrated.

stevie said...

You know, I know it's not one of the best this year, but I really like "Remember When." For all the money, glamour, and material possessions this life brings these characters they end up dead (Doc Santoro) or shells of men lost in the past (Paulie, Junior, to an extent, Beansie). And they can't ever really trust one another.

It was a great glimpse of character with subtle, smart performances out of Dominic Chianese and Tony Sirico, the latter who can sometimes just be a punchline on this show. Oh, and that letter to Cheney was hilarious.

JD said...

Alan, I do agree with you that the tail end of season 6 is stretched, but I'll take five Sopranos placeholder episodes over an entire season of Grey's Anatomy. (That wasn't argumentative, it was simply meant to take a swipe at Greys, which is about as pedestrian and arrogant as successful TV can get.)

That said, it's hard to name a favorite episode, but I will name a favorite moment from the show, especially reflecting on how it's all coming to an end. In Season 3's "Second Opinion," we see Tony and Carm in therapy together with Melfi. Those scenes are great, but the standout is when Carm sees Dr. Krakower who comes down on Carmela with a force 100 times stronger and more cutting than Melfi dumping Tony for good. He calls her life a sham, tells her she is an accessory (not even an enabler) and gives her a warning to take the children and run. She is shocked and later talks to a priest who softens that message and reassures her. She has lived in the grey area of that priest's warning ever since, slowly drifting back to become complicit in the criminal enterprise. Worse, she's allowed her children there. She proved an old crank like Krakower right.

That scene is the closest David Chase has come to outright fully condemning the Soprano family (Tony's blood). Watching these final episodes, I wonder if at any time, Carmela will remember Dr. Krakower's warning and asks herself, "How much worse could things be if I left four years ago?"

Alan Sepinwall said...

No episode from season 4, 5 or 6 should make a top episode list before every episode from season 1, 2 and 3 is already on that list.

I disagree with this for all kinds of reasons, not least which that season 5 is a better season than either season 2 or 3 (and I'd stack the first half of season 6 against the cream of season 2 or 3 as well).

More to the point, you can't do a list and not include "Whitecaps," or "Whoever Did This," or either of the two Adriana episodes from season 5. Years from now, when people look back on this show, what are they going to remember more: the Scatino bust-out or Ralphie's toupee falling off? Jackie Jr. playing Scrabble or Tony almost putting Carmela through a wall? The computer-generated Livia or the game of wiseguy Telephone after Tony and Ade's accident?

"Remember When" is another great one. Like I said, I could have put any of the episodes from this season (with the possible exception of "Chasing It") on the list without any real regret. I used to think there was no way any season could ever top the first. Depending on how the finale goes, I might be willing to revise my opinion.

SJ said...

I better watch season 6 again if you think it's that good. I only watched it once when it first aired, and I was definitely a bit disappointed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

SJ, in particular you want to watch the first six episodes: Junior shooting Tony through Vito arriving in New Hampshire. It all falls apart after that (relatively speaking), but the early stuff is damn good.

Kemazi said...

JD nailed it. I second everything he said, particularly that “earlier episodes, as brilliant as they are, lack some of the richness and nuance that Chase and Co. have brought to the table since Season 4.” However, I do take exception with the idea that “Kaisha” is “mediocre.” Not only do Michael Imperioli and Juliana Margilious turn in some truly inspired performances, but also this episode, in hindsight after watching the current season, has a great foreboding quality to it, setting up all the darkness and the grim drama that was to ensue in 6B. As one looks at that Sopranos Christmas tableau in the final shot, you can practically hear the storm clouds rolling in and thunder bellowing in the distance (I think I read someone write this before, and it might have been you, Alan, but I think it’s damn true).

The only episode of the Sopranos I might say was mediocre is Season 5’s “In Camelot,” which has its moments but is saddled with a fairly dull A-storyline involving Tony and Johnny Soprano’s mistress. It felt like filler, as did some on the backend of Season 6A, but after reviewing those they all seem a step above this one—including the redundant “Luxury Lounge.”

So here’s my list of favorites— In no particular order and with some reasons why I like them.

1.) SOPRANOS HOME MOVIES: I watch this show because of episodes like this—I guess you can say I like the emotional violence a little more than I like the actual violence. And boy is this a brutal one—but it’s even more brutal because of the time we spent with all these characters over the years which in turn allows us to have real insight into just what is boiling under the surface between each interaction of the Soprano clan on T’s birthday weekend. The “bullet through the beehive” story is unbelievable (in a good way-- I really wish I knew how they came up with that—and if you could ask a writer, Alan, I’d be forever in debt to you) and that monopoly game is one of the best scenes in Soprano history. What a riot. This is also a great opening to the new season and one of the last episodes (if not the very last) we have with what I consider the “old” Tony—the one before all our illusions about him were wiped away by the direction Chase took the show and the character in the following seven episodes.
2.) COLD CUTS: Tony B. & Christopher bonding as they dig up bodies and bust on Big Tone at Uncle Pat’s farm only to have the Two Tony’s resume their old dynamic of making fun of Christopher at dinner the next day and in turn sending Chrissy home crying in the car. Call me sadistic but to me that whole aspect of the Two Tony’s relationship with Christopher was a brilliant touch. On top of that we got the whole Janice-Tony storyline which culminates in one of the best Sopranos endings ever (of which there are so many it’s almost impossible to choose) as Tony walks away triumphant down a Jersey street in autumn (after successfully picking a fight with Janice at dinner) all to the strains of The Kinks: “I’m not like everybody else.”
3.) IRREGULAR AROUND THE MARGINS: “She's a knockout. A ten. And look at you, you're average at best.” That whole scene between Tony and Chris is priceless. And the rest of the episode is one of the most exciting in Sopranos history.
4.) WHERE’S JOHNNY: An episode that might not be as great as the rest on this list, but is included if only for the final scene between Junior and Tony when Tony asks: “Do you even love me?” This one also has a great dinner table scene as Junior repeats one of the things that eats at Tony most: “He never had the makings a varsity athlete” sending Tony into an absolute fury.
5.) TWO TONY’S: The bear, Paulie and Christopher & the $1,000 dollar tab, Tony as Melfi’s “Prince of Tide,” and another great ending as Tony puffs a cigar, clutching his AK on a fall night to protect his family from the bear.
6.) WHITECAPS: Sopranos at its peak.
7.) WHOEVER DID THIS: We see a new side of Ralphie when his son is put in the hospital due to a freak accident with a bow and arrow and this all right before Tony kills Ralph in one of the most shocking incidents in Sopranos history. The second half of the episode as Tony and Christopher dispose of Ralph’s body is fantastic as we watch their process in all its gory detail. Also Imperioli’s reading of “I didn’t” when Tony asks him if he got high before he came over to Ralphie’s house is amazing—watch and you’ll see.
8.) FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC & PRIVATE: Time Zone and Afrika Bambatta’s “World Destruction” is an inspired music choice for Tony’s requisite walk to the end of the driveway. This episode is also a great showcase for David Chase’s phenomenal writing abilities as every scene sings and all of the Sopranos distinctive qualities are put on display, as each character, no matter how miniscule in importance, comes to life through the detail Chase injects into this particular script.
9.) PROSHAI, LIVUSHKA: For the writing tour-de-force that is the scene post-Livia’s funeral at the Soprano house when Janice stages a remembrance against everyone’s wishes. There is so much texture to that scene and I am always floored by the deftness and richness of the characterization from something as simple as Tony’s “move it along, Janice” to the old lady in the wheel chair (sorry, I forgot her name) honoring Livia by mentioning that whenever someone died or was in the hospital she knew she could always count on “Lee” for a phone call letting her know to Christopher’s stoned ramble to the out of focus guy in the background that comes down the stairs behind Tony and sees this travesty of a remembrance occurring only to quickly and wisely turn around and go upstairs to hide. Although, “digital-head Livia” was the Sopranos biggest mistake and I never understood why they included it since the scene seemed to me to be superfluous.
10.) MR. RUGGERIO’S NEIGHBORHOOD: A stylistic departure for the Sopranos with a great mash-up of Peter Gunn and the Police refrained throughout the episode. Also, this one has another great ending with a dolly in to the FBI’s bugged Lamp played against Elvis Costello’s “High Fidelity.” This episode moves like a bat out of hell and as the first episode of Season Three it marks the Sopranos transcendence from great television to great Art. If that previous sentence didn’t already tip you off, for me Season 3 is when the Sopranos really hit its stride.
11.) FROM WHERE TO ETERNITY: The segway from Tony being a good dad and apologizing to A.J. with a box of pizza to the next scene which has Tony taking out Matt Bevilaqua in a most brutal fashion presents us with the crux of the whole show in an episode that I find to be more dramatically engaging then the over-rated “College.”
12.) TOODLE-FUCKING-OO: Melfi’s “Toodle-oo” to Tony is just plain funny and we get the first appearance of Richie Aprile, the character who becomes the Sopranos’ villain archetype for the next 3 seasons (Jackie & Ralphie in 3, Ralph in 4 & Tony B in 5).

Other worthy favorites: “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano,” “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry (Terrence Winter’s first episode),” “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” “Funhouse,” Amour Fou,” “Eloise” & “Marco Polo.”

And Stevie: “Remember When” was awesome and everything you said about it was right on.

Julie said...

Alan,
A&E actually showed both episodes (Pine Barrens and Amour Fou) last night back to back. What a strange and delightful coincidence. Prior to this viewing, I always held Pine Barrens up as one of my top 5. But after watching them both back to back, you are absolutely right. Amour Fou is a much better conceived episode, very rich in character development.

I was actually a little stunned after watching them. I didn't think I could be swayed.

Anonymous said...

Just to be in the minority who stands up for season 4, while it was definitely not as explosive and had a structure that was very different from the three previous seasons, when you look at it having seen almost the complete picture, you realize how many seeds were sewn in those episodes.

I recently went back and rewatched all the episodes, and there are so many themes that are introduced - intense focus on Christopher and his heroin problem, Paulie's wavering loyalty, tension between New York and New Jersey, just to name a few. Not to mention Tony's increased self-destructive tendencies, and abject selfishness. When you consider that season six was an add-on and season five was supposed to be the end, season four starts to make a little more sense.

Anyone else agree?

-Josh

JD said...

Josh,

I'm with you on Season 4 -- thematically rich but also trying to find itself as it moved away from more episodic plots toward its current character-driven pacing, which I think accounts for some of its missteps. It's a show trying to reinvent itself. Sure, there are a few slow spots, but the highlight of Season 4 -- other than Whitecaps and Ralphie's move toward redemption before Tony introduced his skull to marble flooring -- was the series investing some time to develop the Johnny Sack character, perhaps the most interesting man in Brooklyn.

Vince Curatola really created a memorable character that was never completely an adversary or friend to Tony. As the character progressed, it was wonderful to watch him play off Gandolfini, especially when the two would hit an impasse in business. ("He used to be a pragmatist" was one of Tony's best lines to describe a Johnny Sack blowout.)

However, the character's three shining moments were his most human ones: the ferocity in which he protected his wife's honor after the fat joke, including that heartbreaking scene with him finding his wife's secret stash of snacks; his performance in Season 6's wedding episode, nearly losing it when the Feds took him back to jail; and, finally, his final episode, dying with as much dignity as he could. A lesser show would never have given a character like that the time to develop so many nuances.

Plus, I think it was Alan who said, and I'm paraphrasing, "nobody makes the art of smoking look as sensual as Vince Curatola."

That's a long digression from the original point, but what I take away from Season 4 are the developing characterizations that are starting to pay off in ways that rarely happen on TV.

Anonymous said...

I will stand by my earlier statement that seasons 1, 2, 3 and 7 are superior to season 4, 5 and 6. But I had meant to make an exception for Whitecaps. I'm sure there are other exceptions. Just as there may be the occasional lesser episode from seasons 1, 2 or 3 that I'm forgetting. Still, the superiority of the first 3 seasons and this latest one to the others is so obvious that I can't even count it as an opinion. It is merely an observation of an objective fact.

Anonymous said...

employee of the month
walk like a man
both should be on the list...

and even if you put irregular around the margins on your list, it doesn't mean you can't put long term parking on there...that might be the best episode of all time.

i dream of jeanie, prolly the worst of finales in the whole show....the best finales by far are funhouse, whitecaps, and MADE IN AMERICA ?!?!?

Patrick said...

If I had to choose, I'd rather never see season one through three again than lose the episodes from four through six. From a narrative point of view, one through three were tighter, but the character development in the later seasons is unparalleled. Season five in particular was so intensely focused in every episode, it's one of the best seasons of any show ever. The early years had great moments, but I find them less intellectually satisfying than the more complex later years. If I had to rank the seasons, it would go:

5
6B
2
3
6A
1
4

SJ said...

jd,

Great description of the Johnny Sack character. Vince Curatola was right when he mentioned how his final episode was an "actor's dream". How about giving that guy a nomination rather than Imperioli this time around?

Anonymous said...

To me, the best season is #3, though every season is outstanding TV. Two of my favorite characters in the whole series are introduced in season 3, Ralphie and Gloria. Gandolfinini was at his best this season. His scene with Jackie Jr. in the strip club bathroom, the breakup scene with Gloria - were so intense - especially the scene with Gloria in Amour Fou - which has to be considered one of the most powerfully acted scenes in the history of TV.

Here is how I would rank the seasons:
3
1
6B
5
2
6A
4

I don't dislike 4 or 6A that much either. Ralphie is all over season 4 which I love as well as the tension between Carmela and Tony. 6A is great too, to me is a toss up with season 2. But my top 4 on the list, those seasons are each truly top class. I still like season 1 even though has been criticized for not being as complex or layered as the other seasons. I just watched the season again on DVD and I would disagree with this. There are a lot of different stories going on in each episode, and so much happens in this season and everything is new. The stories drag on a bit after season 1 and not as tight.

Anonymous said...

Replying to my own post above. The reason I like Gloria Trillo so much - I have to mention it - is that she is just so damn hot. Got to be the honest woman to ever be on the show. Though Meadow got pretty hot later on. By the way what happened to Meadow in season 2? She was tiny in the first season and all of a sudden had a big ole bootie in #2. But then she steadily dropped thay weight. Anyhow, she's hot, I think I read somewhere she battled anorexia so maybe that was it.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the final episode. Let's face it people, Tony gets shot. It goes black, just like him and Bacala had talked about. The pararell parking - the third time's a charm, just like the first 2 times Tony gets shot and he survived, the third time he didn't.

And I would love more than anyone for the series to come back at some point for a short run, or a movie to be made. But then again I'm still saying that about Seinfeld. But, will this show ever be the same, with Chris Moltasanti dead, Silvio might be dead, Junior is crazy, the kids are grown up and not in the house, AJ grew up into a deuchebag. I just don't know how much further this show can go or if it will be able to be as good as it once was. Speaking of AJ they should have killed him off in the final episode. You gotta kill AJ. The finale was already a bit of a tank, they should have done something more shocking. You gotta kill AJ.

Anonymous said...

"Pine Barrens"!!!!!!!!!!! best ep ever!! the best!! just seeing Pauly in those woods....

Anonymous said...

Maybe not my favourite, but All Due Respect, the season 5 closer certainly makes my top ten.. The end when he comes out of the woods behind the house was just like the bear entering at the beginning of the series