|The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season (2001)
Starring: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Nancy Marchand, Drea De Matteo
Okay, I admit it: I’m hooked. After finishing the final episodes in the first season of “The Sopranos,” I went straight to the video store to rent season two. Somehow, this series just keeps improving. With the addition of two intriguing characters and more side stories than a soap opera, the second season of “The Sopranos” is bigger and better, once again illustrating the fascinating intricacies of two separate families: the Sopranos and the Jersey mob.
After unsuccessfully trying to take charge of the family through the attempted assassination of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), Junior (Dominic Chianese) and Livia (Nancy Marchand), Tony’s uncle and mother, are forced to obey his new rules as the boss. Livia’s disappointment leads her to the hospital while Junior -- who has his own problems with the law -- is placed on house arrest with a medical excuse, but is reluctantly left to depend on Tony for some cash flow. Tony’s sister Janice (Aida Turturro) comes home to take care of their mother while the rest of the Sopranos deal with their own unique problems. Carmela (Edie Falco) wrestles with her duties as a supporting wife and her own moral beliefs, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) is off at college meeting boys, and A.J. (Robert Isler) continues to fill his adolescent life with trouble and football.
Meanwhile, Tony’s “professional” life begins to unravel a bit when Pussy (Vincent Pastore) returns home from an unexpected vacation, now working for the feds, and Richie, an old-school gangster and brother of the family’s former boss Jackie Aprile, comes back from a long jail stint to mix things up within the family. Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) are both back as Captains and Christopher (Michael Imperioli) is finally a made man after a near-death experience from a gunshot wound.
Similar to season one, each of these episodes varies in quality, but as a whole they are much better than their predecessors, for the most part. While there still seems to be several unanswered question (many of which are addressed in season three), the final episodes are once again by far the best of the bunch. With a sadistic baddie like Richie, a trip to Italy that brings back a new, intimidating Italian lieutenant Furio (Federico Castelluccio), and a surprising episode that features “Swingers” and “Made” star Jon Favreau as himself, the second season has a lot more to offer fans. Each pivotal character is given plenty of screen time again, but I was especially pleased to see my two favorite characters, Christopher and Paulie, get the attention they deserve.
The DVD release for the second season is also similar to the season-one release. Presented in the series’ original cigar box, the show is featured on a four-disc set with four episodes on the first disc and three each on the following discs, along with the special features that appear on disc four. Once again, the video and audio transfers are adequate, though HBO never seems to put out quality transfers for their expensive sets. The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen aspect and offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track; nothing too spectacular, but it gets the job done.
There’s a little more meat on the special features bone this time around but many of the extras lack in quality, with two featurettes and four commentary tracks by the show’s various directors. The two featurettes include “The Real Deal,” a five-minute quickie that contains interviews with law enforcement agents on the show’s accuracy and a longer, but equally uninteresting 15-minute bit entitled “A Sit Down with the Sopranos,” which is a purely promotional extra that presents the thoughts of the actors about the series through interviews with “The Sopranos” creator David Chase.
Four audio commentaries span the entire series this time: episode three (disc one) with director Tim van Patten; episode nine (disc three) with director Henry Bronchetein and producer Irene Landress; and episodes 12 and 13 (disc four) with directors Alan Coulter and John Patterson. Most of the commentaries are fairly dull. While the series usually enlists the same four or five directors for a majority of the shows, it still feels very disingenuous because of the different views each director offers. I would really like to see the cast record some commentaries or maybe a writer of the series, although I was still fairly impressed by the addition of these commentaries since the first season only featured one with David Chase (one of the most boring men alive).
The rest of the set is polished with the industry standard filmographies, awards listing and the same series index feature that allowed you to view a preview of each show or watch the “Previously On” and “Next On” commercials found on each disc’s episode menu. HBO really upped the ante for this second season release, but the four-disc set still lacks the impressive stats that appear on most DVD releases nowadays.
Like the first season, this second installment of “The Sopranos” had me hooked. The dramatization of Tony’s struggles between the two families makes for intoxicating television. With plenty of twists, subplots and the potentially disappointing disappearance of more than a few major characters, “The Sopranos” has managed to remain fresh and innovative while paying respect to its growing legion of fans.