The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season review, The Sopranos: Season Three DVD review
Starring
James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Isler, Tony Sircio
Director
Various
The Sopranos:
The Complete Third Season

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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A

fter two immensely successful seasons filled with unending awards and high praise from critics, “The Sopranos” is back for a third run at some of the same old stuff with a dash of flavor. Creator David Chase stirs things up by adding a new nemesis who’s more sadistic than any other you’ve ever seen.

The accidental death of Richie Aprile (David Proval) and the murder of the two-faced Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore) have shaken the world of the Jersey mob family. The Feds are hot on Tony’s (James Gandolfini) trail and successfully wire his home in a fresh episode dedicated completely to the good side of the law. The death of Tony’s mom (Nancy Marchand) sets the stage for a number of elderly deaths, causing Junior (Dominic Chianese) to question his own health, only to later be diagnosed with cancer. Meanwhile, Janice (Aida Turturro) travels back and forth between Seattle and Jersey, only making appearances when significant events happen in the Soprano’s household.

The biggest change to the series comes when Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano) moves into town looking for a nod from Tony to replace the empty Capo position left by Richie’s disappearance. Now dating Jackie Aprile’s ex-wife Ro, Ralphie is a loose cannon who becomes a big problem for Tony, who’s desperately trying to lay low while under federal investigation. Jackie Jr. (Jason Cerbone) is given a much larger role in the third season as he dives into the life of crime while dating Tony’s daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), who still is attending college in New York, learning the twists and turns of the real world. AJ (Robert Isler) continues to follow in the steps of his father as he constantly gets into trouble at school.

The addition of Pantoliano to the “Sopranos” cast is by far the best move they could have made. Pantoliano brilliantly meshes his loyal obedience with a short temper, producing an off-the-wall character who outshines any of the show’s prior villains, yet he still comes off as one of the most likeable characters in the series. Jason Cerbone’s expanded role also was a fine decision, but I still really wanted to see more of Furio (Federico Castelluccio) this time around. There also are significantly more stand-out episodes in this season, particularly “Pine Barrens,” which was directed by Steve Buscemi and features Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) in a hilarious trek through the woods, showcasing the series’ two best characters in what basically is their own episode.

The DVD releases for the “Sopranos” series still haven’t changed much, sticking with what’s worked for the past two years. Presented in the series’ token 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 some typically mediocre special features that appear on disc four. The video and audio transfers won’t impress you any more than they have in the past, although both appear to be somewhat improved. The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and is fairly solid except for a few grainy spots here and there. The audio contains the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track as the past discs, but still manages to do a good enough job for its viewers.

Don’t look for an abundance of special features on the season-three DVD set of “The Sopranos,” but expect quality over quantity with only one featurette and three audio commentaries. Disc four contains the disappointingly short behind-the-scenes “making of” feature that shows some nice production-related aspects of the show, but barely gets started before it’s over. The set also boasts the customary filmographies, awards list and a series index with an option to view previews for each show.

Where the special features really shine is the three audio commentary tracks that appear on discs three and four: episode nine (disc three) with writer/actor Michael Imperioli, and episodes 11 and 12 (disc four) with guest director Steve Buscemi and series creator David Chase. As usual, Chase’s commentary on the 12th episode epitomizes boredom, but the other two deliver their own unique perspectives on the series. Imperioli in particular is a great addition to the commentary because of his role as a writer and especially as an actor on the show. He adds exclusive background information on various cast members, a true treat for the avid fan wanting to know more about the habitual events that happen away from the cameras. Buscemi’s commentary is a dream track for fans of his work as well as the episode “Pine Barrens.” His input is a joy to listen to, adding spice to the bland selection of commentaries that have been included the past three years.

“The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season” is the best season yet. With a storyline that continues to build more tension each and every year, this series continues to excite, surprise and entertain. The genuine writing is smart and witty, developing every character to its fullest. A great cast is made even better with the inclusion of Pantoliano and the continued development of several other pivotal characters, cementing the show’s position in HBO’s all-star line-up. While season three is just as expensive as its predecessors, this one might just be worth the full retail price.

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