When news spread of James Gandolfini's untimely passing Wednesday, shock waves reverberated among his celebrity colleagues and fans. At just 51, Gandolfini left behind a wife, two kids, and an acting legacy that has turned American television into art.
Before there could ever be a Don Draper or Walter White, the enigma of Tony Soprano had to come lumbering across the small screen. It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that this would never have happened without Gandolfini's impressive skill and massive personality. In honor of Gandolfini and his widely-known mobster character, we've put together some of Tony Soprano's finest moments.
Disclaimer: Of course, if you're familiar with "The Sopranos," you know that this could never be rated G. So we have to warn you, if you click on the videos, expect some bloodshed and a few words we can't say out loud here.
Meadow asks her dad the obvious question
"College" from Season One is widely considered one of the best all-around episodes of "The Sopranos." It has the unmistakeable comic edge of an earlier season, along with this moment of pure candidness between father and daughter regarding Tony's shady work history. Whereas AJ seems to benefit from his father's intimidating notoriety, Meadow is constantly at the mercy of her friends' catty innuendo. The question: "Are you in the mafia?" not only brings out the humanity in Tony, but the nurturing father.
No matter how much Tony openly loathes and mocks certain members of his family (i.e. Janice), it's his privilege alone. After multiple bouts of unsuccessful surgery to fight stomach tumors, Tony grows concerned that Uncle Junior has put his trust in knife-happy Dr. Kennedy, simply because of his surname. Lest you forgot already, Uncle Jun has a Sinatra-sized man crush on JFK.
The thing is, Kennedy's initial diagnosis was right, but there is no room to play the jilted lover, as he does when Junior receives chemotherapy from a different surgeon.
Cue to Tony and Furio crashing through the hedges on a runaway golf cart. Dr. Kennedy is gifted a brand new titanium driver and a lesson on punctuality. "There's a bee on your hat, Doc!"
Anthony Jr. finds existentialism
David Chase and Matthew Weiner love to burrow into the pathos of a strained father/son relationship. Sadly, Anthony Jr. will never live up to his father's lofty ambitions. The guy just wants to drink Mountain Dew and play video games, while gracefully flunking out of high school.
AJ's narrow window of intellectual curiosity comes courtesy of an influential English teacher and Albert Camus's "The Stranger." Tony might not believe in God himself, but if atheism disrupts the status quo, you better drop down on your knees and at least pretend to pray.
Tony tells off his mother
When it comes to Jersey's favorite family, the infighting between siblings Tony and Janice are some of the most priceless exchanges. Sure, Janice is a pot-smoking cadge who once stole an immigrant's prosthetic leg, but she's also Tony's big sister.
After killing her abusive boyfriend, Richie Aprile, Janice is visibly shaken. How does her own mother comfort her? By joking that another man "jilted her." Finally, all of Tony's pent-up rage is unleashed on the Soprano matriarch. This is the most sympathetic we see Tony as he spouts, "what kind of chance did she ever have with you as a mother?"
This is also Tony at his most vulnerable. As he flees the domicile of his discontent, he falls flat on his face, his gat skittering across the pavement like a toy pistol. But hey, at least it makes Livia Soprano stop fake-weeping for a couple of seconds.
Tony gives the cold shoulder to Ralphie
There were a number of short-lived gangster cameos throughout the six seasons of "The Sopranos": Steve Buscemi as Tony's gimpy cousin Tony Blundetto, David Proval as hot-headed Richie Aprile, and Jason Cerbone as Jackie Jr. But there was nobody as entertaining as "Gladiator" enthusiast and sexual-deviant Ralph Cifaretto (played with panache by Joe Pantoliano).
Until Ralphie came along, nobody knew that the easiest way to miff Tony was to refuse him a drink. If Tony wants you to be his drinking buddy, there's no asking which brand, you just take the highball glass proffered. Also, don't kill any strippers at the Bing.
In this scene, not only is Ralphie made to apologize, he's made to grovel. The guy isn't even offered a chair let alone some gabagool.
Tony tells Carm that Richie is sleeping with the fishes
After Janice puts two in the chest of Richie Aprile, Tony breaks the bad news to his wife. In the Soprano household, that just means uttering the phrase, "don't make me make you an accessory after fact." Carmela lets out a heavy sigh as if he just told her that he got into a fender bender.
What caps this moment of understated collusion is that Carmela decides it's an appropriate time to spring the news of her girls-only Roman getaway. Hey, that's what happens when an affair with a Russian with a mean drunk dialing habit.
Tony and Dr. Melfi discuss the sexual side-effects of Prozac
Tony would later threaten to smash Dr. Melfi's head through a glass table because she badmouthed his mother, but at the beginning it was all coffee and schmoozy charm. The only problem is that the Prozac she's prescribing, "might be working overtime, if ya know what I mean."
I can't say for sure whether James Gandolfini improvised this crack on impotence, but Lorraine Bracco's reaction seems so mirthful and wholly unscripted.
Tony and Christopher steal some wine
Okay, Okay, your fiancee was a rat, so we had to take her out to Miller's Crossing. But time heals all wounds, right? Also, stealing some wooden crates of Bordeaux from a group of bikers.
It's rare to see the boss getting his hands dirty, so it was pure comic gold to see Tony and Christopha giddily stealing the haul from a low-level band of crooks and in turn, mending their dysfunctional relationship.
Tony shows that he’s still boss
Uncle Junior's mental health had been slowly deteriorating for years, when in the debut episode of season 6, he became convinced his nephew was deceased gangster "Little Pussy" Malanga. After shooting him in the stomach, Tony spends a number of episodes withering away in a hospital bed. When he's finally released, there's obvious tension in his extended mafia brood. In his weakened state, can he inspire the necessary fear to wield control over a pack of power-hungry wolves? To answer that question, Tony picks out the biggest meathead in the room and gives him a memorable beat down. That'll teach you to not slam the refrigerator door! Now I need to go vomit.
Season 2 revealed that not only was Salvatore Bonpensiero a government informant, but his mafioso boss was a gypsy seer. In a series of demented fever dreams brought on by some bad clams, and maybe some Indian spices, Tony comes to understand that his closest friend and confidant sold him down the river long ago. Tony's inherent denial, even among his subconscious, was strangely touching.
Tony is obsessed over losing the fight to Bobby
Five seasons of fat jokes didn't even get under Bobby Baccala's thick-skin, but one crack about Janice looking like a shaved German Shepherd's rear end gets Tony thrown through a coffee table. Bobby is a level-headed guy, but as he reminds Tony, "you Sopranos have no limits."
Tony spends the rest of the episode nursing his wounded ego and inventing stories about a slippery rug. Tony is an endearing mass-murderer, but geez, just admit when you've been had.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
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Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.