|The Sopranos: The Complete Fifth Season (2004)
Starring: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Drea de Matteo, Steve Buscemi, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Isler
It’s been a long time coming for the fifth season of “The Sopranos” to arrive on DVD, and now that it’s finally here, it’s tempting to simply shrug it off in favor of many, far better television series. Six years ago, when the show first premiered on HBO, “The Sopranos” was the quintessence of quality dramatic television, but ever since its climactic third season, the series has been diluted by weak storylines and a lack of surprises. Where I was able to forgive the fourth season's inconsistencies and useless squabbling in exchange for a much larger payoff, season five only brings more of the same tired melodrama to the table.
Much like last season, a lot of the plotlines have yet to be resolved. Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Carmela (Edie Falco) are now separated and in the midst of a divorce, which gives Tony the opportunity to chase down his sexy psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). A.J. (Robert Iler) continues to be a complete pain in the ass for Carmela, whereas Meadow (Jamie Lynn-DiScala) has almost entirely disappeared from the series, serving no real purpose to the writers of the show now that she’s in college. Meanwhile, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Adrianna (Drea de Matteo) are busy planning their wedding, though it may never take place if anyone in the family catches wind of Adrianna secretly working with the FBI.
And if it wasn’t evidence enough that viewers were beginning to grow tired of watching the same crew week in and week out, creator David Chase has introduced a number of new major characters in the fifth season, most notably Tony’s cousin Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) and big gun Feech La Manna (Robert Loggia), who both want their well-deserved positions within the family in return for keeping quiet in jail. And let's not forget the keen casting of Frankie Valli as one of members of the New York mob family, which is now being run by both Carmine Jr. (Ray Abruzzo) and Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) after the death of former boss Carmine Lupertazzi (Tony Lip). Meanwhile, Tony’s relationship with Johnny Sack continues to deteriorate as the two families vie for control through a series of unauthorized hits and destructive power plays.
The DVD release for season five is presented in the customary cigar box packaging with probably the best cover art of the series. All 13 episodes appear across the four-disc set in HBO’s brilliant 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, along with a powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that booms behind Tony’s commanding voice. Unfortunately for fans of the series, this is about as good as it gets, because this time HBO hasn’t even attempted to generate a group of so-called special features. Instead, the only supplemental material offered on the set is five audio commentary tracks on the following episodes: “All Happy Endings” (disc two), “Sentimental Education” (disc two), “In Camelot” (disc two), “Cold Cuts” (disc three) and the season finale, “Long Term Parking” (disc four).
Unlike past seasons that have had a mix of both solid and disappointing commentary tracks, season five leans more to the kind of second-rate commentaries that David Chase records, with a whole lot of talking but a lack of something interesting actually being said. All the audio tracks are done by the respective episode’s director, except for “Long Term Parking,” which is recorded by actress Drea de Matteo. The best track out of all the commentaries is Steve Buscemi’s (“In Camelot”), which is to be expected, since he is probably the most talented guy on the show, but it’s likely that most fans are happy to see that HBO has finally delivered a commentary by one of the regular cast members. Unfortunately, Drea's is the worst track of the entire season. She doesn’t offer much in-depth detail into the making of the show, but instead blabs on about how much she loves Adrianna’s nails, or how long make-up took every day to bring her character to life. This is all interesting commentary if you’re listening to an actor that actually went through hell in the make-up chair for a big-budget movie, but for an Italian mob princess, I’ll take a rain check.
Season five doesn’t stray too far from the past seasons’ use of excellent dialogue, and the cast members all turn in brilliant performances as usual, but since the series slowed down last season and started abandoning the more appealing characteristics of the show, it hasn't lived up to its lofty reputation. Instead, "The Sopranos" is innocently crawling to its well-publicized finish line, even though Chase still hasn’t decided on an ending. But after two sub-par seasons, now may be the perfect time to go out with a bang.