I Think About This a Lot: The Sopranos Edition

In honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, 11 writers share the moments they always come back to.

Photo: Anthony Neste / ©HBO / courtesy Everett Collection
AJ, Tony, Carmela, and Meadow Soprano.
Photo: Anthony Neste / ©HBO / courtesy Everett Collection
AJ, Tony, Carmela, and Meadow Soprano.
Photo: Anthony Neste / ©HBO / courtesy Everett Collection

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds. In honor of The Sopranos’ 20th anniversary, 11 writers share the moments from the show they … think about a lot.

Jackie Junior playing “ass” in Scrabble

In season three, Meadow Soprano has fled the confines of upscale suburban New Jersey for Columbia University, but then starts dating Jackie Jr., a mobster’s son whom I’ve written about in this space before. Meadow, suffering from the flu, invites Jackie to visit her at her dorm, where she makes him play … Scrabble. Scrabble is a stupid game, in my humble opinion, and if my boyfriend suggested we play Scrabble instead of watching a movie or fooling around I would strongly consider ending our relationship. It’s an even stupider choice when your boyfriend is a proto–Jersey Shore cast member like Jackie. Meadow plays fancy book words and Jackie, in a moment I’ve thought about at least once a week for the last decade, plays the word “ass.” Ass. Ass. Ass. And when Meadow looks at him as if to say “for real?” he smirks and says,Ass. As in, how about giving me some?” It’s in this moment that it becomes glaringly apparent that Meadow is working out some serious daddy issues — her father, too, loves a crude joke, and also his office is in a strip club so he literally stares at butts while he works. Tony is also more street smart than Scrabble smart, if you get what I’m saying. I did and do have a soft spot for Meadow, a character many Sopranos bros denigrate — I think the questions about family and inheritance she wrestles with are more interesting than those of her brother, who is an idiot. And yet now, some 17 years after I first watched this episode, I find myself firmly on Jackie’s side, even though I don’t know how many points “ass” was ultimately worth. —Angela Serratore

Silvio Dante saying “Gabagool, over here”

I first encountered The Sopranos in literally the dumbest way a human can. It’s so dumb that I can’t even describe it without offering massive spoilers. Here’s what I did: First, I randomly stumbled across the episode where Christopher dies. Then, I went to a party where we watched the series finale. These are arguably the most dramatic moments in the entire show, and I bumbled through them with no idea who any of these people were.

So my interest in seeing the rest of the greatest television show of all time was lukewarm until my husband showed me the 15-second clip in which Silvio Dante says “Gabagool? Over here!” Gabagool? Over here! It’s so simple and yet so appealing. Even if you don’t know anything about the show — or if you are me and somehow know less than nothing, because you are aware of major plot twists free of context — you can tell in this clip that all of the actors are very good, and they all have truly wonderful faces, and they’re interacting in a world with really specific cultural references and family ties that are just a little too tight. You can tell, in those 15 seconds, that all of these people have huge and painful histories with each other, and they also have good taste in cured meat (except Meadow. Live a little, Meadow!).

On the strength of this clip, I wound up watching the full series, partly while I was pregnant and partly on maternity leave with my first son. My husband is a teacher and he was off for the summer, so we spent three months holding our sleeping newborn in front of The Sopranos. Sometimes we made up mafia nicknames for him. We drank a lot of coffee and whenever we got bored, we talked about Paulie Walnuts. It was glorious. Eventually, the baby began to make noises, and to this day, both of us swear his first word was “Gabagool.” —Izzy Grinspan

A.J. upset that there won’t be any ziti at his birthday

I didn’t start watching The Sopranos until 2015 — when it debuted, I was 9, and all I remember is snippets of violence as I crossed through rooms where my male relatives were watching it. My dad, who emigrated from Sicily as a child, coped with his in-between Italian-American identity by consuming as much media about Italian-Americans as possible, and when I finally got on board, The Sopranos fulfilled prestige television’s ultimate purpose for me: self-administered therapy. In the pilot, when a potbellied little A.J. learns that his grandmother will no longer be attending his birthday party because of a conflict with his father, he says, “No fuckin’ ziti now?” and the emotional roller coaster that was Italian family parties came rushing back. The unexpected early arrivals, the no-shows, the rescinded invitations — all were deployed strategically in interpersonal conflicts that I could only faintly understand. For the next six seasons I was hooked — I couldn’t stop watching these emotionally stunted, deeply unhappy people stumble through life, wielding their ziti against one another while completely failing to articulate their needs and desires. The wounded bewilderment of “No fuckin’ ziti now” is my “Et tu, Brutus” — all betrayals, all disappointments can be summed up with those four perfect words. —Amelia Ayrelan Iuvino

Christopher telling Martin Scorsese he liked Kundun

A common complaint about mob fiction is that it glamorizes the life — either objectively or, by comparison, making the mobsters little kings of their own narrowly defined worlds. This scene (in the second episode!) shows that no matter how things may seem back home in Jersey, if you pull back the lens even a little bit, most of the DiMeo crime family are nobodies. These guys aren’t swaggering into the Copa through the back, tipping everyone that greets them in an iconic one-shot sequence. They’re on the wrong side of the rope. They can’t even get into the club at first. This moment is also an example of a very particular joy of The Sopranos: making a mob goon genuinely relatable. Who among us, if they had one chance to shout something at Marty Scorsese, wouldn’t name-drop one of his lesser-known projects in a vain attempt to impress? —Patrick Monahan

Christopher’s intervention

The Sopranos never seemed cheap for a show that got a lot of miles out of one joke, the joke that this family of Jersey goombahs is not like your sinless but restrictive family, and they have to live in the same world. This family also has to endure what Christopher, my favorite character, calls “the regularness of life.” Christopher never had a chance, really. He had hovering over him an alcoholic mother and the impossible myth of his father, shot dead while carrying a baby crib. In Tony he chose a pretty awful replacement dad — we have to keep reminding ourselves, because of that irreplaceable charisma James Gandolfini possessed, that Tony is by most definitions a bad person.

When I first saw the scene where the family stages an intervention for Christopher, a heroin addict, I thought the word “carefrontation” and everything it stood for was the joke, so topical and Oprah-lite. Like, ha-ha, everyone is so soft now! But I was a teen, I had no hindsight then. Now I realize the joke is everyone’s total inadequacy. This is the best they can do for him! Paulie’s face when Adriana says Christopher can “no longer function as a man”: hilarious. Tony defiantly saying the word “Cosette” like that dead dog was holy: hilarious. Everything Silvio says (“YA HAIR WAS IN THE TOILET WATER”), plus the fact that he wrote it down (!): overwhelmingly hilarious. No one in that room, not even moralistic Carm or sweet Elias Koteas, is equipped for what is happening, and no one was ever going to rise to the occasion. They were never going to be better. Over and over, this show asked whether trying to improve, reflecting on what you’ve done and atoning, was ever good enough, and the question was rhetorical. Can’t you see that it’s not, especially when you keep doing bad things? —Jen Vafidis

The way Tony pronounces “Louis Vuitton”

One of my favorite episodes of The Sopranos is “Cold Stones” from season six, when Carmela and Rosalie Aprile go to Paris together. It’s the Italian-American version of Sex and the City season six, when Carrie Bradshaw lives abroad — so, one-thousand times better. Carmela gets all philosophical about life and death, while Rosalie just wants to bag a Frenchie. The scene I think about a lot, though, happens right before Carmela leaves for France. To make up for what has been a “rough year,” Tony gives her a Louis Vuitton logo wallet filled to the brim with $100 bills. “Now this is the real Louis Vuitton,” he says with a grin, because of course his wife would assume he got her the fake version. But the best part — the real pièce de résistance — is the way Tony pronounces “Louis Vuitton.” Instead of the official “Vwee-ton,” with a nasal emphasis on the “ton,” he pronounces it more like “Vi-toon,” like “Looney Toons.” Even the closed captioning transcribes it as “Vitoon.” It’s funny because it’s wrong, but also because it doesn’t matter. Tony wields his bad French accent with so much confidence, it makes the classy French version sound somehow worse — fake, even. As someone who works in fashion and has to pronounce “Louis Vuitton” on a regular basis, I’m often inclined to use Tony’s way. Tony’s French accent is also a metaphor for the entire Sopranos aesthetic: Luxury is whatever you make it, French tips and all. —Emilia Petrarca

The Uncle Junior cunnilingus episode

One of the most memorable Sopranos episodes for me, which I conveniently refer to as The One Where Uncle Jun Eats Pussy, is hardly one of my favorites. It’s simply seared into my brain because it’s an unbelievably wild ride. And also, because I always remember the Sex Stuff.

The scandal starts during Uncle Junior and his girlfriend Bobbi Sanfillipo’s trip to Boca Raton where, while drinking Champagne in bed, Bobbi whispers to Junior that “when you kiss me down there, you’re like a great artist.” Instantly offended that his girlfriend would utter such a lewd remark, Junior demands that she never tell anyone about this, because “if you suck pussy you’ll suck anything, it’s a sign of weakness, and possible sign you’re a finook” — a conviction that, based on my perfunctory research into Italian-American culture in the 1990s, I’m convinced Junior pulled out of his ass. Obviously, everyone finds out and Tony proceeds to refer to cunnilingus in a number of chilling ways — most perplexing, “whistling through the wheat field.” Junior feels so emasculated, he brutally breaks it off with Bobbi.

While the episode makes me grateful to live during a time when masculinity is negligibly less fragile, it recently came to mind when DJ Khaled’s backwards remark about not performing oral sex reemerged last year, and hordes of men jumped at the opportunity to partake in cringey virtue signaling on Twitter. Is that really the only alternative? At least we can all agree that “whistling through the wheat field” is an insane way to refer to the act.Amanda Arnold

The Citizen Kane ladies’ movie night

In season five, episode two, Adriana, Carmela, Janice, and other mob-adjacent ladies have a movie night and watch Citizen Kane. As a Sopranos-lover (obviously) and film critic, I find this scene deeply satisfying. In the Soprano family’s plush screening room, the women recline and Carmela reads out loud a review of the iconic film from Leonard Maltin’s movie guide. They settle in, and the scene jumps to a fade-in to the movie’s famous final moments. A few quick comments ensue, followed by an awkward pause. Then, in a perfect moment, Carmela — hoping to spur conversation — says, “There was the cinematography.” The cinematic discussion clearly isn’t going anywhere, and gives way to gossip. But Carmela saying, “There was the cinematography” is everything. It’s an all-purpose reaction, one that can’t really be argued with. Infinite words have been written on Citizen Kane, and an actual discussion of the film wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable as Carmela’s prosaic line. The lack of explicit discussion makes their reactions feel true, and it’s fascinating to be a fly on the wall for this private mob wife event. It’s not clear how regularly their movie nights occurred, but I definitely want a list of everything they watched. —Abbey Bender

Meadow Soprano’s outfits

When Meadow — or, as I like to think of her, Maedo, per Furio’s spelling in a hastily scrawled good-bye note — was first introduced to Sopranos fans, one of the central tensions of the show was whether Meadow would turn out like her mother (willfully ignorant, cosseted by privilege, adept at obfuscating threats of violence with offerings of ricott’ pie) or become her own person. Her wardrobe choices reflected this. In the first few seasons, Meadow wore the type of mom-approved clothing we got from Delia’s for Christmas — butterfly clips, lattice chokers, cargo pants with spaghetti-strap tanks layered over long-sleeved tees.

In the third season, however, Meadow started showing signs of evolving. She strayed from the pre-med track and dated a cute, albeit extremely annoying, Columbia student. She also opted for slightly cropped tees and tight turtlenecks — never baring more skin than would be acceptable at Sunday dinner, but making it clear that the cute little girl who sang soprano next to Hunter Scangerello was a distant memory.

At the end of the series, Meadow ends up falling somewhere between the two paths set out for her: while she defies her parents’ wishes and becomes a civil-rights attorney, she does retain ties to her criminal family by dating the son of one of Tony’s capos. Her sensible suits and work-appropriate pumps telegraph that she’s a Serious Person, but her expensive flat-ironed ombre highlights are a telltale sign that Meadow has more Carm in her than she thinks. Nonetheless, I have a special place in my heart for the Meadow of season one, making stir-fry with Hunter while singing “No Scrubs” and wearing a slightly cropped band tee that she probably found at Hot Topic. (No scrubs, Maedo? Then how do you explain the Jackie Aprile Jr. arc?) —E.J. Dickson

Furio and Carmela’s sexual tension

I think about Furio Giunta, the Italian mobster who moves from fair Naples to suburban New Jersey to work for Tony Soprano, all the time. I think about his luscious ponytail, his robust nose, his flowing and colorful silk shirts. I think about how the actor who plays him, Federico Castelluccio, is also an accomplished visual artist. But mostly, I think about his unparalleled sexual tension with Carmela in season four — a notoriously unpopular plotline that I will always cherish. The most public expression of it occurs at Furio’s housewarming party, where he and Carmela enjoy a rollicking dance to sensual Italian music, but I prefer the private moment they share when she’s helping him decorate his new house. “You are a very special woman,” he tells her. They’re interrupted briefly, then she suggests they go to a tile store together to pick out flooring. He smiles knowingly and responds: “I would love to go with you there.” I would love to go with you there! A spectacular eight-word expression of lust. Furio and Carmela could’ve never happened — she was a married woman, she was married to his boss, his boss was a terrifying and famously vengeful criminal. At least they’ll always have Colortile. —Gabriella Paiella

Father Phil Intintola puking

A Sopranos thing I think about a lot, is the “College” episode of season one. Specifically, what a wang Father Phil is. In the episode, Carmela is home alone with the flu, when Father Phil — the young, kind-of-cute priest from their church, who knows he’s the young, kind-of-cute priest, and flirts with all the women in the congregation — knocks on the door and is all, “Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and craving your baked ziti.” He and Carmela eat Carmela’s ziti and drink her wine and watch her movies, and drink more of her wine, and just when it seems like they’re about to kiss, and like Carmela — who has been subjected to all of Tony’s many infidelities — will finally get hers, Father Phil goes and barfs in the toilet, and then passes out on her couch. I think about the look on Carmela’s face after she hears the half-digested ziti and wine splashing into the toilet bowl — the look that crosses most women’s faces at least once, or maybe hundreds of times in their lives. It is the sneaking suspicion that even the supposedly good guys are actually huge fucking assholes. —Madeleine Aggeler

I Think About This a Lot: The Sopranos Edition