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The debut date: Jan. 10, 1999
The cast: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Nancy Marchand, Stevie Van Zandt, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Dominic Chianese.

The mob life, a middle-aged Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) comes to learn inside his northern New Jersey enclave, isn’t the good life anymore. There’s a breakdown in the system, within the Soprano family and in Tony’s personal definition of manhood; it manifests itself in anxiety attacks that have Soprano making regular trips to the office of psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). From these visits spin every Soprano tale — some morose, some wickedly funny, all uncommonly personal — and its distinctive tone will capture a patient audience looking for an intelligent episodic that isn’t sex and shoot-’em-ups.

HBO’s team has not only done its homework, but come up with clever twists on one of the most saturated film subjects of the last 30 years. Foremost, this 13-seg series fleshes out the family side of wiseguys in the waste management and food service businesses.

Gandolfini plays Tony Soprano introspectively but without the hushed tones that generally signal a personal crisis in these sorts of roles. He appears out of step with the modern world — virtually every action and reaction around him follows no code of ethics or respect, or at least any that he can comprehend. Gandolfini does a lot with body language, and his mood is nicely limned in virtually every scene; it can be summed up as a midlife crisis, yet it feels like so much more: Life will never be the same. Eventually, he’s only comfortable with a handful of friends and his psychiatrist.