1. The Sopranos
Air Date: 1999
Writer: David Chase
Creator: David Chase
Stars: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco
Premise: At mob kingpin enters therapy after family strife and workplace pressure cripple him with panic attacks.
There's little crime in the pilot for The Sopranos. Besides the beating at the beginning and the arson at the end, the violence is off-screen. Now that the show has left its giant leather footprint on pop culture, this may not seem so incredible, but if you think back to gangster stories that were produced before Tony sat in the therapist's chair, this is incredible. Even the most domestic of mob dramas show us numerous sequences of goodfellas being goodfellas.
In The Sopranos, hits are ordered at softball games and deals are struck over the family grill. What made the series great, and what sometimes gets lost in retrospect, is that this show intentionally lived as much in the world of Six Feet Under as it did in the world of The Godfather. The pilot of The Sopranos reminds us that this is a show about a suburban family man unhappy with life—he just so happens to be a gangster. —BG