Ranking the Seasons of The Sopranos

Self-explanatory article!! I am counting season 6.5 as season 7 because David Chase spoke of it as a different season, and I found it more convenient than combining it with season 6.

7. Season 6 – Kevin Finnerty, Johnny Cakes, & Van Helsing

While there are many EXCELLENT aspects of this season, it is also by far the weakest stretch of episodes the show ever did overall. It seems pretty obvious that the core problem was that the show initially did not expect to have to produce more than this run which led to them artificially stretching out the Phil/Tony divide and placing additional importance on the Vito story. The latter was particularly damaging to the show because that actor was probably the one performer who was asked to do more than they were capable of doing which was very rare for The Sopranos. They also always maximized the extent of an actor’s talents on the show and hid their limitations. That was not the case with Vito.


6. Season 5 – The Other Tony

This is a really WEIRD season in some ways. The Steve Buscemi story was unlike anything they had really done. The sudden importance of the New York characters was very different for the show. Adriana’s death was possibly the most depressing moment of the show. I don’t know. It’s not bad in any way, and it’s all done with the usual charm and humor of the previous seasons (along with the newfound existential depression established in season 4), but there’s definitely something about this stretch that feels emotionally off-putting. Again though, these are just the hard-to-describe qualities that you have to figure out what separates this from the other great seasons of the show.


5. Season 4 – “Everything Comes to an End”

This season marked a decided turn for the show. While season 3 features many (if too many) reminders that these characters were terrible people, season 4 decided to remind everyone that this world is terrible and there is no reasonable hope for things to ever get better. And the show only doubled down for the rest of the run on that theme. While the show did not reach its emotional lows in this season, the transition to this sharpened tone still feels jarring all these years later.


4. Season 7 – The End

The final batch of episodes features one glaringly awful episode (“Chasing It”) but otherwise is essentially just a series of homeruns that almost feels like a victory lap while still being the same hilarious and beautiful show that it mostly always was. Most of the deepest supporting characters get a swan song featured showcase episode and each one feels more beautiful than the next. Bobby and Janice in “Sopranos Home Movies.” Johnny Sack in “Stage 5.” Paulie in “Remember When.” Etc. The final two episodes were then as tense as anything the show ever did as everything finally did come to an end. And of course the infamous ending was all you could ever want from such a moment. A beautiful and haunting closing season for The Sopranos.


3. Season 2 – The Gang Kills Pussy

After delivering the greatest first season of a television show ever, The Sopranos followed it up with a second season that essentially met the impossible expectations while gradually evolving simultaneously. While the show continued with much of the same dynamics from the premiere season, it showcased new directions that would forever be a part of the show: consistent reminders that Tony is a monster even to kind people in his life (David Scantino) and that the characters would be willing to kill characters that are not just their friends but also characters beloved by the audience (Philly Spoons Parisi……wait errrr….I meant, Pussy).


2. Season 3 – The Jackie Jr. Season

The Sopranos was a phenomenon after its first season, and things never really came back down to earth in season 2. So much so that it became obvious that people really loved these characters. Enter season 3 aka the one where they repeatedly remind you that these people are fucking terrible, violent sociopaths. Some of those episodes were still absolutely incredible, and thankfully the show still had its outstanding comedy and tension to help keep things enjoyable. Still though, there are some fucking brutal moments in this season.


1. Season 1 – “Cunnilingus and Psychiatry Brought Us to This”

There is really nothing quite like the raw energy of season 1 of The Sopranos. This is a show that has a raging sense of urgency in terms of the story, rapid-fire laughs from bell to bell, and almost unparalleled instant understanding of all its characters. This season essentially did all the great things every season of the show did while also being at its peak as a pulpy show about northeast Jersey gangsters. The show wisely recognized that they could not be like this forever and gradually took its foot off the pedal over the next couple of seasons. Just because that was a wise decision does not mean though that the show wasn’t at its peak in this phase.

2 thoughts on “Ranking the Seasons of The Sopranos

  1. Season 1 is easily the weakest. It’s still television in style while subsequent seasons are cinematic.
    A. Dull photography
    B. Functional directing most of the time, and vulgar choices (in the Pilot, there’s a very embarassing car sequence ending with Tony and Christopher beating up a guy)
    C. Stuff leaving no trace, like the rapist coach or the “Visiting Day” episode, and bearing no necessity.
    D. Clichés in characterization. In “A Hit is a hit”, rappers are portrayed like new jack musicians from 1989.
    E. Bad soundtrack. Generic music is used. In later Sopranos seasons, nearly all music is “within” the fiction, justified by the milieu, and most of all, music carefully chosen will be used with parcimony. You even hear more television’s sound than music thereafter, which is the best-suited soundtrack for the lives of these characters (in season 4, the use of television is genius)
    F. Bad angle, specially in “A hit is a hit” : the mobsters colliding with outsiders, other social groups. It’s so much better and more realistic to stick with the mobsters and their milieu. As for all of us, we’re all stuck in our social group. You might think season 6’s Vito trip to New Hampshire would be the worst example, but it’s not. The Vito thing is no easy satire, it’s a developped fairy tale and it echoes the “Kevin Finnerty” tale : the possibility (denied) of a new existence.

    Season 2 is a major improvement, correcting all these shortcomings (except for the D Girl episode, which tries again with this Mob-meets-outsider comedy) , and from there, it continues to get more subtle, deeper, more daring, more cleverly paced, more cleverly told, more based on signs and symbols. From season 3 to season 6b, it’s true great art. But season 1 is only television.


  2. It’s so interesting to see different opinions on this topic. I disagree with some but not all of these. My ranking worst to best (I love all of these seasons) but if I had to pick it would be.
    6 part 1
    6part 2


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