For all of mob boss Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) depression and panic attacks, and for all the attendant violence on display, this first episode is a lot funnier than you probably remember. David Chase’s staging of Tony’s first visits to his shrink, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) happened the same winter that Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro released Analyze This in theaters, and the TV version of the mobster-in-therapy plot turned out to be a lot more wickedly absurd and cleverly executed.
The first episode also introduced us to Tony’s two families (professional and personal), both of them hilariously foul-mouthed and crude, and both full of potentially lethal adversaries. The shakedown of a debtor is played as much for laughs as for menace, and Tony’s solution to a vexing problem (he blows up his friend Artie’s restaurant to prevent Uncle Junior from staging a hit there that would ruin Artie’s business) is both bluntly effective and ridiculously excessive.
Sure, there’s also densely-packed symbolism (ducks in the pool, grilled sausages) that will become more resonant over the course of the series, but mostly, this episode is a comic tour-de-force that barely hints at the shocking violence, moral compromises, and sheer epic visions to come.