James Gandolfini's Early 'Sopranos' Reviews: Raves for a Mob Boss

'Sopranos' Premiere
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Gandolfini celebrated the second-season premiere of The Sopranos with his co-stars Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler -- who played his children on the HBO drama -- in January 2000 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York.

THR looks back at the initial acclaim the late actor received for playing Tony Soprano in season one of the HBO hit.

James Gandolfini, who will forever be remembered as the mob boss who deftly balanced family and "the family business," burst into the public consciousness in a big way when HBO's The Sopranos premiered Jan. 10, 1999.

The actor had enjoyed roles in major films prior, but The Sopranos would become the actor's masterwork, earning him three outstanding lead actor Emmys and six nominations.

The Hollywood Reporter looks back at season one reviews for The Sopranos and Gandolfini, who died Wednesday at the age of 51 in Italy.

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“James Gandolfini is terrifically dynamic as Tony, finding just the right balance,” wrote Caryn James of the The New York Times about the show's debut episode. “The character is not admirable or entirely likable, but he is always fascinating and sympathetic.”

The New York Daily News' David Bianculli opined: "Gandolfini, from Get Shorty, is handed the best midlife-crisis TV role this side of Dennis Franz in NYPD Blue and delivers a brilliantly subtle, always surprising portrayal."

“As Tony, James Gandolfini offers a subtle mix of pent-up violence and sensitive boyishness,” found The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert. “His performance works at both extremes of Tony's personality, and he makes the therapy scenes, which could seem contrived, completely natural.”

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"James Gandolfini, who made his bones as a minor mobster in several movies, now assumes full stature as a man of respect," found The Philadelphia Inquirer's critic Lee Winfrey"He's authoritative as a character capable of killing, yet touchingly vulnerable when seeking the best of comforts for his wife, daughter and son."

The Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern rhapsodized about Tony Soprano in March 1999, writing: "Instead of mortgaging the production to outlandish star salaries and egos, the show gives us brilliant performances by such relatively unsung actors as James Gandolfini, who plays the mobster, Anthony Soprano, and Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi, Tony's frightened, fascinated therapist."