I last saw a sanitized version of the Pilot episode when it premiered on A&E but in honor or Fly allowing us to have weekly recaps of the early "Sopranos" episodes I pulled out the dusty Box Set of Season 1 to watch the real deal. My God, its amazing how much of a bedrock for the entire series this episode is even though it was shot a couple of years before the show made it to air. Except for Carmela going for the AK-47 and getting money from the cans of soup (behavior completely at odds with the Carmela we see at the end of the series) her character, Livia and Dr. Melfi's are the only one's their respective actresses just plain nailed dead-on. Everybody else (especially Gandolfini and his original Jersey accent) struggles a little bit to find more than the main outline of who their characters are, something future episodes in Season 1 fill in. Tony Sirico's Paulie has basically a couple of minor lines and scenes, Steve Van Zandt looks like Steve Buscemi's cousin Oscar Buscemi (seriously, look at him! :)) and Michael Imperioli is doing freaking Tae-Kwon-Do before he whacks a guy in the pork store. On hindsight the humor that was always there emerges more clearly and is funnier now with the whole series put in perspective. I'd never noticed until tonight, for example, that when Corado is driving Livia to AJ's birthday party they were holding traffic back several cars because they were driving so slow! :)
But as the rock on which the church of "Sopranos" is built these 60 minutes are just plain fun once you get past the discrepancies with the rest of the series. From the moment Tony meets Livia we know how much tyranical control the woman has over her son. When Tony runs over the guy at the HMO that owes him money Christopher is more interested in his car's busted front light than beating on the deadbeat (which he promptly does when Tony prompts him in a paternal way), leading into the scene near the end when he mentions he wants to go Hollywood. The petulant and selfish kids, Carmela's hypocritical way of thinking ('the difference between you and me is that you're going to hell'), Tony's loyalty to Artie... it's all there from the beginning. A rock-sold '9', shy of a '10' just because a few oddities (like Adriana being a hostess at a NYC restaurant and Tony's mistress being a blonde) just are too large to be ignored in the grand scheme of things.