SOPRANOS: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON
Reviewed November 19th, 2001 by Brian White
HBO has just released their second season box set of their ultra hit, The Sopranos. The Sopranos is quickly becoming recognized as one of the greatest television programs of all time, and these four DVDs display many of the reasons that this moniker is starting to stick. Yes, there is more than hype keeping the Sopranos afloat. Despite the fact that the second season is considered by some to be lesser than the first and third, the productions contained on this set smack of quality.
I donít know why people have criticized the second season. Think about the back story that season one gives to these rich episodes: Tony is on top, he has defeated his enemies, only to have to deal with new ones and devolving alliances. The guyís own mother was behind a plot against him! The threat from the super-evil couple Richie and Janice alone makes these discs worth owning.
People have criticized the trip to Italy, in Commendatori, as having no real value. I think it broadens the scope of the series, and gives Tonyís crime family a little bit of timelessness. There is a little mythology there. How about Chrisí foray into the film world, in his acting classes and in the D-Girl episode? And what about Chrisí trip to hell? How about the excellent action of Knight in White Satin Armor, which ends the Richie and Valerie arc? That episode was so perfect, with the senior Mrs. Soprano laughing at Tony laying on the front walk with his gun out, that I thought it was the finale for the season. Speaking of the finale, Funhouse was absolutely brilliant. Itís a little artsy, but hey thatís ok. You have Big Pussy talking to Tony as a fish and lots of other dream stuff. Fantastic!
The relationships in the second season evolve quite naturally. You have Chris initially lost, Big Pussy being destroyed personally by the decisions heís made, Carmel and Tonyís strained relationship, Uncle Junior trying to exist in Tonyís world: either with or against him. Tony feels lonely at the top. The distance that he must maintain from the real action, for both professional and legal reasons, leaves him even more depressed, which is excellently summed up in House Arrest.
If I have a gripe with the second season, itís Tonyís therapistís need to treat him. The beginning of the season, with the good doctor in hiding because of what has gone on in Tonyís life, and her rejection of Tony when he requires her help, are all quite believable. Her relationship with Tony is a great storytelling device, and it anchors the series. This relationship is strained beyond my belief by her need to treat Tony after everything that she has been through.
As always, The Sopranos boasts some of the best acting on television. Production-wise, the show is fantastic, and the dialogue is top-notch. I shouldnít really have to mention the high quality of the cast. The awards and accolades should give enough of a hint of the castís greatness. Ok, Iíll mention the best: James Gandolfini, just coming off his second Emmy for his portrayal of Tony, is beyond great, as always. Edie Falco is given much more to do in the second season, and she demonstrates her true prowess here. I could mention the rest of the cast, but you get the picture.
How do these four DVDs look? The cinematography is very film-like. Initially, I was distracted by video noise seen in the backgrounds. I donít want to call these artifacts, but there is some squirmy graininess going on in the shadows. I wonder if this is the result of a particular filming technique or a filter? Anyway, the transfers on the episodes are very detailed, certainly much more so than a standard-definition broadcast. The episodes are presented in their HDTV aspect ratios, anamorphic 1.77:1. I was impressed by how well framed the action was in the slightly wider-screen version, as the shows were originally broadcast in 4:3 (and the camera monitor in the featurette shows that aspect ratio as well). Sadly, I thought that the HDTV down-converted episodes would look better than they do.
How is the sound? While presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the split surrounds are rarely used during the episodes. Music comes from the rear channels, but little else. I must say that the audio mix across the front is quite good.
What kinds of extras have we? Thereís a really informative featurette with several Mafia investigators and writers. They maintain that the show is absolutely believable. One participant actually says that his mob informants can never be reached on Sundays because they are busy watching the Sopranos. Another claims that the producers must have their own informants to make the show as real as it is. The other featurette contains interviews with the stars and series and creator David Chase discussing their hit show and how much it means to them. Four episodes contain commentary tracks. These are incredibly informative, and a lot of fun if youíre a fan of the series. Given that this is a continuing series, it seems like the directors are in greater touch with the characters and the actors, so their comments are more meaningful. Because long-running characters end their time in the series in select episodes, it is interesting to hear the directors discuss the actorsí feelings about the demise of their characters. The commentaries are great, but they should be included with all episodes.
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