Making the Case for “College”
By Colin Hart
Allow me to preface this column by declaring that The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time. So, by default, that means the greatest episode of the greatest TV show should be, er, the greatest TV episode of all time, right?
Well, yes, but that’s not the only reason.
“College,” the fifth episode of the series, is comparable to Sgt. Pepper’s or Citizen Kane or the 1927 New York Yankees. That is, it’s unofficially garnered “official” G.O.A.T. status. Similar to what The Beatles, Orson Welles and Babe Ruth all accomplished in their respective fields, “College” was a watershed moment for television as an art form. It changed the rules of the game, so to speak.
Originally airing on HBO in 1999, the David Chase-penned episode was a unique standalone installment that operated more like a one-hour movie. It transcended the very medium itself, even though the storyline is quite simple: Tony Soprano and his daughter, Meadow, are off in New England visiting prospective liberal arts schools, while Carmela spends the night back in New Jersey with a priest. No other distractions, just two stories that build to thunderous climaxes.
Even though other Sopranos episodes like “Long Term Parking” and “Made in America” feature bigger rewards — emotional payoffs to storylines that had been building for years — “College” is still the episode that defines the series.
The genius of “College” is that you don’t need to know anything about The Sopranos to understand how good it is. It’s an episode that is as powerful as it is universal — an episode that not only shows what The Sopranos is capable of, but also what TV itself is capable of. The fact that it occurs so early in the series only accentuates its importance.
So, does “College” stand alone in the G.O.A.T. conversation? Can any of the other contenders even come close?
Off the top of my head, no.
“Duffless” might be the funniest, “Final Grades” might be the most gut-wrenching, “Walking Distance” might be the most original, “Ozymandias” might be the most action-packed, “Part 8” might be the most avant-garde, “Everyone’s Waiting” might be the saddest, “Once More, with Feeling” might be the most tuneful, “Blackwater” might be the bloodiest, “The Suitcase” might be the most emotional, “Teddy Perkins” might be the most innovative and “International Assassin” might be the most bat-shit crazy, but “College” is still undoubtedly the best.
It towers over the rest of TV history like Tony Soprano towers over Febby Petrulio’s lifeless body, a prophetic vision of the violence and brilliance and greatness to come.