NEW YORK -- Twenty years ago this week, "The Sopranos" was about to debut on HBO, and creator David Chase was sure it would never amount to much.
"My wife will tell you. I thought, 'Another mob story? People are gonna get sick of it, or they'll just laugh it off the screen,'" said the series creator. "We had all our episodes done and completed and in the can and edited. Edie Falco, I believe, said to me, 'Well, I guess that's it for us.' And I said, 'Yeah, I think so.' And we decided that we'd had too much fun doing it. So probably it would be canceled because they don't want you to have too much fun out in Queens 1/8where the series was shooting3/8. No one knew what we were doing."
To say the least, Chase was wrong. The drama about North Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano and his family was an instant critical sensation and commercial hit that endured for six seasons and 86 episodes, blending humor and violence and introducing "goomah" and "bada bing" into the lexicon.
It helped turn HBO into one of TV's preeminent destinations for ambitious storytelling and inspired a wave of morally ambiguous, psychologically probing shows about deeply flawed, sometimes sociopathic, characters that continues to this day.
And nearly 12 years after "The Sopranos" went off the air, fans are still debating and dissecting the controversial series finale, which ended with an abrupt cut to black that left Tony's fate ambiguous.
The show's anniversary happens to coincide with pre-production on "The Many Saints of Newark," a long-anticipated movie prequel that will feature a young Tony Soprano. Partially set during the Newark riots, the film will examine race and has a different tone from the series, Chase said -- "it's not quite as absurdist."
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As an under-the-weather Chase lay on a couch at the film's production offices in Times Square this week, he talked to The Times about four pivotal episodes from the series -- including, yes, the finale.
SEASON 4, EPISODE 13
At 75 minutes, this is the longest episode of "The Sopranos" as well as one of its emotionally devastating. Tony (James Gandolfini) and Carmela (Falco) think about purchasing a house on the shore called Whitecaps, a name that hints at the turmoil to come. But their plans are derailed when Carmela gets a humiliating phone call from one of Tony's former mistresses, leading to a blistering fight with Tony and a decision to separate.