The Sopranos: The Definitive 86-Episode Ranking

March 3, 2019 (Last updated: August 29, 2021)
M.N. Miller 5
Features, TV
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Twenty years ago, The Sopranos changed the landscape of network television by airing on a premium movie channel that dabbled in children’s shows and anthology series’ like Tales of the Crypt in the 80s, then moved onto sitcoms like Arli$$ and Dream On in the 90s (including the rights to Mr. Bean from 1992-1997). The Home Box Office took two big swings: The first being the buzz-worthy word-of-mouth Sara Jessica Parker vehicle Sex and The City, a 30-minute single-camera soap that specialized excessively and agonizing over romances; the other was as anti-buzz or the farthest thing from stylized a show could get, starring a little-known character actor, to play a man in the Waste Management business.

The Sopranos premiered on the now premium cable giant on January 10th, 1999, to little press-worthy heat and a negative cognition of being a mob-related television show when critics felt the genre was old, tired, and stale. They took a gamble on a veteran television writer/producer who made his bones with The Rockford Files and whose success began to taper off after hitting career peaks with the Peabody award-winning I’ll Fly Away and executive producing the critical darling Northern Exposure. That man was David Chase, one of the most talented writers ever to helm a television show, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t stumble into his share of aliening-of-the-stars, old-fashioned, dumb-luck.

Chase, originally, wanted to cast guitar and mandolin Miami Steve of the E-Street Band (Steven Van Zandt) as Tony Soprano, and Carmela was going to be played by Goodfella’s veteran actress Lorraine Bracco.  He eventually came to his senses and selected the very best people for the job, including James Gandolfini, who specialized at explosive bad-guy types with a lovable side (see Night Falls on Manhattan). Gandolfini, at the time, wasn’t a classic film or television star who could carry a network show, which in that era had incredibly high rating standards.

Chase also needed an actress who could match and then stand up to Gandolfini’s ability to bring out a switchblade temperament. He found that in Edie Falco, who was known for a recurring role as the wife of a blind cop on Homicide: Life on the Street before her career-defining role at that point. With those stars aligning, and an embarrassment of riches being gathered in the rough writers and directors, the impeccable casting without giving into big-name guest stars overtaking a series, with some of the sharpest writing television has ever known, The Sopranos became an American cultural touchstone.

HBO thought they were creating two soap operas at the time (a fact David Chase confirmed in the season one DVD set; his career-defining show is, in fact, a soap) and had no idea The Sopranos would kick off the Golden Age of television that hasn’t ended and may have been directly responsible for the increase in cable stations across the world starting their own television brand. The darkly comic and thrilling look (no, this isn’t Analyze This) at a Northern Jersey crime family practically gave birth to the anti-hero, and shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, and countless others would have never been given air time without it.

Please read our definitive 86-episode ranking of arguably the finest show in the history of television, one that, in my opinion, has never produced a bad hour of television, complete with some of the show’s best lines, notable appearances, factoids, and the boundless amount of hits.

Note: Use the numbered links at the bottom of the page to navigate this mammoth article. Want more Sopranos? Click these words for a ranking of shows greatest “hits!”


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4 thoughts on “The Sopranos: The Definitive 86-Episode Ranking

  • Pingback: The Sopranos Greatest Hits: The Complete Whack-A-Mole Ranking | RSC

  • March 6, 2019 at 5:17 am

    Elizabeth Reaser is the woman who comes down the steps to tell Amy that David’s ready to see her, right before Christopher calls her a f****n’ D-Girl.

    • March 6, 2019 at 6:48 am

      Yes! Thank you, was driving me crazy! Also, thanks for checking out the article!

      • March 7, 2019 at 4:45 am

        Hey great article. Appreciate all your efforts. But….needs more proofreading!

        Lauren Braco? Come on dude

  • March 7, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Thank you for pointing that out. I have made efforts to fix those errors. Thanks again.

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