The Sopranos: The Complete First Season review, The Sopranos Season One DVD review
Starring
James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Nancy Marchand
Director
Various
The Sopranos:
The Complete First Season

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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avid Chase’s hit HBO show “The Sopranos” is a melting pot of blood, money, Freud and family, the perfect compromise between “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas” and “Analyze This” generating a memorable television series that highlights both the drama and comedy within the Italian Mob. Constantly hyped from its premiere and the winner of numerous awards, “The Sopranos” has proved to be a crowd-pleaser for fans of the gangster genre as well as others just looking for some quality entertainment on a Sunday night.

In “The Sopranos,” Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) belongs to two families: his own and the Mafia. As a “Capo,” a mid-level boss, for the latter family, he comes from a long history of bosses but finds that present day organized crime isn’t what it used to be with federal agents breathing down their necks day and night. His own crew is comprised of only a few men in which he dedicates his trust with friendships that have been built over the years, including his nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore), Silvio (Bruce Springsteen rocker Steven Van Zandt) and Paulie (Tony Sirico).

After the death of the family’s boss, Tony cleverly hands over the position to his Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) to mend the problems they have been having, knowing full well that he and not Junior will still be calling the shots. Tony’s uncle isn’t his only family problem, but rather one of many; he also butts heads with his shady mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) and his accepting wife Carmela (Edie Falco) as he tries to raise two kids, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Anthony Jr. (Robert Isler).

Tony’s dual family life proves to be too much and he begins to have panic attacks that send him reluctantly to psychiatrist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), who in turn places him on an unsettling prescription of Prozac, two small details he can’t let out for the safety of both his reputation and his life.

All the hype surrounding this series didn’t affect my response to the show; while “The Sopranos” still ranks high for me in quality, some episodes seem tedious at times while others are almost too good (case in point, the last three episodes of the season rock). The greatest appeal for me was the show’s ability to focus on so many characters and stories at a time. This compliment goes hand in hand with my previous comment. While some shows aren’t up to par, when an episode revolves around a character you really enjoy, the experience is so much better. Each character is thoroughly given his dues through the ups and downs they experience, producing an overall result that is both smart and entertaining.

The DVD release of “The Sopranos” first season is a four-disc set that includes four episodes on each of the first three discs and the last episode on the fourth disc along with the season’s extra features. Different than most DVD box sets, “The Sopranos” is featured in an amazing high-quality cigar box that will keep your discs protected and looking good (unfortunately, that’s also the reason this compilation costs twice as much as most others).

Both the video and audio transfers are solid in presentation and leave no room for protest. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and compliments the show with bold, bright colors and sharp contrast. The show’s audio doesn’t appear to be anything special (i.e. Dolby Digital) but manages to sound fine most of the time. Much like the show’s audio transfer, the special features for the season aren’t extraordinary but are better than nothing.

Appearing on all four discs, each episode has a summary as well as a “Previously On” and “Next On” teaser for a commercial-like presentation of last week’s and next week’s shows, or you can just watch previews for every episode through the episode index on disc four. The first disc contains an optional audio commentary for the pilot episode between creator/director/writer David Chase and Peter Bogdonavich. This commentary is horrible at best and discusses much of the same information they cover in the included interview on disc four with Chase, who rarely says anything without being prompted by Bogdonavich first.

The rest of the extras are on the fourth disc, including the aforementioned interview between Chase and Bogdonavich about the show’s origins, two worthless featurettes that simply advertise the show with quick interviews (about three minutes each), a page of cast/crew biographies, and a list of the awards/nominations the show received in its first year. Unfortunately, the quality of the extras are so low that they could be listed in the above manner, but that still may be enough for television fans who had to deal with the same problems on the first-season releases of “Sex and the City” and “24.”

Luckily “The Sopranos” is a strong enough show to overwhelm its disappointing DVD release. For those without HBO, the first season of “The Sopranos” is a must-see that will get your blood pumping and your Italian heritage back in line. Unlike most TV DVD releases, though, I recommend renting this season from your local video store until the outrageous price for this amazing four-disc set settles a bit. Cook up some pasta, slick back your hair, and get ready for a wild view of the Mafia that will knock you dead.

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