(Spoiler-heavy recap of season 1 of The Sopranos. Be careful)
I’m watching The Sopranos with Paige—her first time through, my second. And I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, particularly the scheming that the low-level gangsters are up to in any given episode. If you look at that recap above something that jumps out at me is that Tony’s immediate family, and his emotions are the focus. It wasn’t all that important, apparently, to recap the various scams and scrapes that Paulie, Chris, and the rest of the gang get into. Sylvio is barely in it.
When I was 16 or so, watching all that stuff for the first time, I have to admit all that day-to-day gangster stuff was a little hard to follow. I found myself getting swept away in the comedy beats of a scene, which tend to be really fast, and then the scene would cut, and I would be a kinda lost. One minute they were arguing about a sandwich, and the next we’re in a different location, on a different day, and someone’s being beaten up. And even at that age I was a pretty seasoned plot-follower, having trained myself with books and gangster movies. The Sopranos was just on another level.
Now, everything is as fast-paced as The Sopranos, and a lot of the best TV of the past decade demands a lot of the viewer, plot-wise. I’m thinking of the Lily of the Valley storyline on Breaking Bad, or the last season of Mad Men, or most of Succession. I know I’m not the first to point out that The Sopranos had an influence on other TV shows (duh). But I don’t see people talking about how this has affected its rewatch value.
There’s this gaming term: New Game Plus (or NG+). Certain games let you go back to the beginning after you’ve finished with power-ups and weapons that you aren’t supposed to have until later in the game, which makes it easier. But the game being easier is rewarding for a million reasons apart from just being easier. It allows one to see find sheer joy in tasks that were perhaps frustrating the first time around, and one can also see the developers’ intentions more clearly.
That’s how I feel going back through The Sopranos. The power-ups are enhancements to the TV-consuming part of my brain, and they make the show easier to watch and understand. On top of that, it’s nice to be able to see how pieces fit together that I didn’t quite notice the first time. But on top of that, I see how an episode is constructed in such a way as to keep all the plates spinning, and that gives me more respect than ever for the writers, cast, and crew.