There are many reasons why The Sopranos is considered, by some, to be the greatest TV show of all time. One is its numerous complex characters. They might not always be relatable, given the world they live in, but the New Jersey and New York natives are always part of captivating storylines that keep the viewer glued to the screen.
On the show, the camera never sticks too much to Tony, allowing viewers to learn about each character’s motivation. And in each season, there is always one character that shines more than the rest. For the season MVPs, everything about them is commendable, from their dialogue to their mannerisms.
In the first season, Junior becomes the boss of the DiMeo Crime Family after Jackie Aprile Sr.’s death. His reign is marred by acts of tyranny where he taxes untouchable businesses and keeps most of the profits for himself. He also goes to war with his nephew Tony, all triggered by the planned hit on Gennaro “Little Pussy” Malanga.
A number of things make Junior the star of the season. Nearly every other character’s arc connects with him, including Tony’s visits to Dr. Melfi. Most of Junior’s best quotes in The Sopranos are also found in this season and they are golden. The manner in which Junior orders the whacking of everyone that looks at him the wrong way also paints him as the traditional bloodthirsty Don that fans have come to adore from prior mob-related productions. By the time the finale airs, Junior has already had the typical mafioso rise and fall story. He gets stamped with federal racketeering charges and then starts ailing.
The second season is highly revered by many fans and that’s mostly because of the capo Richie Aprile, who causes all sorts of mayhem in New Jersey when he gets paroled. His violent outbursts become a constant source of frustration to his colleagues. He also gets to date Tony’s sister Janice, but that doesn’t end well for him.
Richie’s constant acts of insubordination make him unique since most mobsters cower at the sight of Tony. The capo doesn’t feel obligated to adhere to Tony’s directives since the Don was just an up-and-coming street soldier when he got jailed. And even though Richie’s brutality shocks audiences, it’s his biggest strength as a character. He is neither intelligent nor reasonable, just a fearless brute who has no problem running over foes in the streets and smashing glasses on people’s heads. Richie is also the only character that messes up Tony’s firm decision-making streak since the boss never has an idea of how best to deal with him.
Paulie doesn’t hesitate to flex his authority when Christopher is assigned to his crew after becoming a made guy. The two clash frequently, with their push-and-pull turning comical in the iconic “Pine Barrens,” one of the best episodes of The Sopranos. Paulie also engages in another comical feud with Richie Aprile, prompted by the unequal distribution of earnings from a heist.
The capo’s feuds are what make him a character worth keeping up with. These feel authentic and refreshing since Paulie can’t beat up Christopher and Ralph as he would someone else. His hands are tied as the two are valuable to Tony. Paulie’s scenes in “Pine Barrens” are also incredible enough on their own to make him the season’s best character. From misunderstanding Tony to frantically chasing after Valery, he is in comical form. His financial frustrations are greatly explored too, and they almost lead him to switch sides and join the Lupertazzi family.
Introduced in season 3, Ralph is a perfect villain replacement for Richie. He’s just as irrational and bloodthirsty. But it’s in season 4 where he truly shines. Thanks to the Esplanade project, he establishes himself as the highest earner in the family. The racing horse, Pie Oh My, then becomes the cause of his fallout with Tony.
Richie comes off as more of a horror/thriller movie type of villain since violence is fun to him, compared to other mobsters who kill or assault to achieve a particular goal. He deserves commendation for his business acumen since making money is what organized crime is all about. The consequences of Ralph’s reckless actions are also splattered across the season. His Ginny Sack weight joke almost gets him killed and so does his murder of Tracee. Still, there are moments when he is humanized, tempting audiences to sympathize with him. A perfect example of this is when his son gets shot by an arrow. While Ralph’s tendency to offend is entertaining, it ends up costing him his life.
The main character has great arcs throughout the show, but he mostly excels in the fifth season. Having separated from Carmela, he tries his best to win her back. He also finds himself heavily engaging with the Lupertazzi family, providing advice when a power struggle develops and trying to create peace when Tony Blundetto murders Phil’s brother, Billy.
Tony is portrayed as a changed man for most of the season. The numerous mistresses and romps are missing. Instead, he tries to charm his way back into Carmela’s life, something that shows how much he adores family. His love for family is also illustrated when he does his best to protect his cousin Tony Blundetto from being whacked by Lupertazzi members. And instead of being at the center of disputes as is often the norm, Tony is mostly a mediator in the season. He does his best to ease tension during the power struggle and also between New York and New Jersey after Billy’s death.
Christopher finally gets promoted to capo and starts getting high-profile assignments, such as the hit on Rusty Millo. He gets married too, though the union isn’t a happy one. Most importantly, he puts much effort into his filmmaking career and finally makes his movie dream a reality.
Through his forays into Hollywood, Christopher proves that he’s not as incompetent as most of his colleagues think. The arc is also revitalizing to the show since fans get to see a venture that isn’t illegal. His dedication is so great that he courts actor Ben Kingsley, who becomes one of the celebrities who appeared as themselves in The Sopranos. Christopher’s marriage also opens up fresh wounds and serves as a reminder that Adriana is irreplaceable. His struggles with addiction are further emphasized too, with his latest relapse foreshadowing a tragedy that’s about to happen.
The war between New York’s Lupertazzi Crime Family, led by Phil Leotardo, and New Jersey’s DiMeo Crime Family, led by Tony, covers most of the second part of season 6. Phil quickly establishes himself as one of Tony Soprano’s greatest enemies by insisting on vengeance for Billy’s death, refusing to compromise on the asbestos-disposal deal, trying to tempt some of Tony’s subordinates to switch sides, and ordering hits on Silvio and Bobby.
While Phil’s stubbornness is irritating, it’s what makes him a great character. Most of his issues with the New Jersey mobsters are solvable, but he doesn’t go that route because he is a General itching to go to war. Peace bores him and that’s why he keeps pouring gasoline on the fire. He is the type of villain viewers cant wait for the hero to defeat, and when Tony’s men finally get to him, he is granted one of the most iconic villain deaths of all time.