My first time with 'The Sopranos'

Jamesgandolfini_sopranos_240_002Confession time: When The Sopranos premiered in 1999, I didn't watch it. As my career did not yet involve watching TV for a living, and I didn't subscribe to HBO.

In fact, I didn't become a dedicated viewer until season three, in 2001. And I've been completely hooked ever since, and caught up on most of the early episodes through repeats and DVDs. Having seen the first two episodes of the final run (more on that in this space tomorrow), I really, really don't want to wait another two weeks for the third.

Its return has also made me think about my first impressions of the show. The series premiered in January 1999, about two months before the movie Analyze This, with its similar mobster-in-therapy premise but wildly different execution, hit theaters. I remember, not having seen either one, thinking that The Sopranos must be a comedy (and, according to this Vanity Fair story, that's how David Chase saw it early on as well), and that it sounded interesting.

Then I finally saw it. I was in a hotel room, and I'm pretty sure it was in the middle of my move from Florida to L.A. in the spring of 2000. This was after the second season had ended, and the show by then a full-fledged phenomenon.

I happened upon the episode "College" as I was flipping channels and decided to see what the fuss was about. The fuss was right.

I'm not sure if I've seen the episode since, but I still can recall moments of it like I just saw it: Meadow asking Tony if he's in the mob, Tony chewing out Christopher by phone, the brutal way he kills his former "friend."

There have been arguably better episodes since then -- "Pine Barrens," "Whitecaps," "Join the Club," to name a couple -- but that one has always stuck with me. It's a rare TV show that can make you remember not just seeing it for the first time, but where and when you were when you saw it. And there's no doubt The Sopranos is, to put it as the guys from Jersey might, a rare f***in' show.

We'll have a full-blown preview of the first two episodes up Friday, but until then: Which Sopranos episodes are your favorites? Which ones linger in your mind?