It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.
This quote, spoken by Tony Soprano to Dr. Melfi in the pilot episode of The Sopranos, speaks volumes about the series that would emerge. Premiering in 1999 as one of HBO’s first original drama series, The Sopranos addressed threats and anxieties posed both to Tony’s family and his Family. His life is defined by loss – murder, illness, addiction, divorce, disrespect, etc. – and the show consistently refers to images of past eras exalting the gangster lifestyle to contrast with Tony’s struggles in the 21st century.
Of course, the irony of the quote is that The Sopranos had an enormous role defining the new era of television, as well as setting HBO apart as a provider of quality series. As Alan Sepinwall points out in The Revolution Was Televised, “The Sopranos without the psychiatry wouldn’t be The Sopranos … this was a show dedicated to going deep inside the psyche of a millenial man” (42). Compared to The Godfather or Goodfellas, the complexity of The Sopranos depends not on the titillating structures of the mafia but the terrifying prospects of a psychologically damaged protagonist living his life. What could appear in theory as another sitcom – mafia boss manages work and family! stress ensues! – becomes a case study in millenial anxiety and fear. Needless to say, the best wasn’t over during the pilot episode.