Where have you gone, Joe Pantoliano? A good episode of The Sopranos truly is "Not TV" ("It's HBO"), because it leaves other "acclaimed" dramas like The West Wing and ER in the dust. There's only one show with a butcher shop where enemies of the family wind up in pieces (and Glad bags), and there's only one show where a young mobster with aspirations of becoming the next Scorsese gets depressed because in real life his "character has no arc."
On the other hand, when that kickass Sopranos writing team fails to tie up a loose end (as in letting every single subplot go unresolved in the final episode of season three) or lays a turd, our high expectations are dashed (and we begin to wonder if Six Feet Under hasn't assumed the mantle of best show on the tube).
Many folks probably don't know that The Sopranos is not the first masterfully done series birthed by writer/producer/director David Chase. When Chase was writing the classic episodes of Northern Exposure (before Rob Morrow left the show), he did something downright literary with each show: three subplots with a common theme left viewers feeling as if they'd just digested a quality short story. If you're watching a TV drama where you can love both the complex characters and the complex plots that provoke thought and laughter, you're in heaven for 60 minutes. (Chase wrote a buttload of Rockford Files and I'll Fly Away episodes, too, but Exposure comes closest to The Sopranos: an ensemble cast overflowing with funky charm.)
Relive the best of The Sopranos at Sopranos Saturdays at Frederick's Music Lounge, from 5-8 p.m. each week at 4454 Chippewa Street (314-351-5711). Freddie factotums Tricia and Dana host a free screening of two episodes from the show's four-season glory, with complimentary popcorn, a cash bar and all the majesty that is Frederick's.
Until the next goombah-licious season of the nation's favorite show, get reacquainted with old characters and conflicts. Remember the killing of Fabian "Febby the Rat" Petrulio, during Meadow's college visit to Maine? The killing of Big Pussy? The killing of Richie Aprile...Jackie, Jr....Ralphie Cifaretto...