The Complete Series
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All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Jamey Codding
here were you when it all went black? If you were like millions of other fans of “The Sopranos,” you were sitting on a couch somewhere wondering what the hell just happened to your TV. For years, people speculated about how David Chase would bring his enormously popular HBO series to a close, specifically whether or not he’d kill off the show’s enormous star, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). It was a natural curiosity, after all, considering how much death and destruction Tony had reigned down on other characters during the show’s eight-year run. So when the credits finally rolled on the series finale, would Tony still walk among the living or would he sleep with the fishes?
Neither. At least, not definitively. Instead of putting a bow on his series, Chase spent the last five minutes of the finale dialing up an almost unbearable amount of tension and then, with so many of his viewers convinced that this was the end for Tony, Chase abruptly cut to black. A few painful seconds later, the credits rolled in silence. That was it – no climactic shootout and no riding off into the sunset; just an ambiguous ending that instantly became one of TV history’s most notorious finales. Blogs and message boards buzzed about the ending for weeks, with some people praising Chase’s brilliance but most reviling the creator for what they deemed to be not only a disappointing finale, but to many a fitting end to the show’s overall decline during its final few seasons. With HBO releasing “The Sopranos: The Complete Series,” fans now have a chance to judge the show in its entirety, from the eponymous pilot to the much-maligned finale. Assuming, of course, they can afford this formidable 33-disc set.
Chase pounded out 86 episodes over six seasons, and they’re all here in a sleek 56-page hand-assembled album. HBO ain’t messing around. The book itself is beautiful, with each season’s episode list and credits included and magnificent black-and-white photography scattered throughout. The last 16 pages of the book are dedicated to a comprehensive episode guide and even more photos. Aside from the 28 episode discs, there are three CD soundtracks featuring 38 songs from the show (with complete track and credit listings) as well as two more discs of bonus features. And that’s on top of the extras that are included with a few of the single-season sets. In other words, this is anything but a barebones collection.
As for the bonus material, the highlights are the two “Supper with The Sopranos” featurettes in which Chase chats about the show with various cast and crew members during a sit-down dinner (complete with glasses of red wine, of course). Chase’s dinner guests in part 1 include Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior), Robert Iler (AJ Soprano), Aida Turturro (Janice Soprano) and executive producer/writer Terence Winter; Edie Falco (Carmella Soprano), Steve Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) and executive producer/writer Matthew Weiner join Chase in part 2. Both offer some interesting insight into the show in general, but part 2 is infinitely more intriguing due to the presence of Falco and Van Zandt (and the absence of Turturro, who appears to be as grating in real life as Janice was on the show). Of particular interest in both featurettes were discussions about specific character arcs and how each cast/crew member felt about the controversial ending. We’re not going to spoil anything in this forum, but fans of the show will surely be interested in listening to what Chase himself had to say about the finale and the response he received from viewers.
In addition, Alec Baldwin sits down for a two-part interview with Chase that delves into various casting stories, the inspiration behind many of the show’s characters, Chase’s own past experiences and, yes, even more discussion about the finale. Baldwin, a huge fan of the show himself, adds a unique dynamic to this interview setting, but sadly the same can’t be said for Bryant Gumble during his time as the moderator for the Paley Center for Media’s “Whacked Sopranos” seminar. Fortunately, Chase and fellow guests Vincent Pastore (“Big Pussy” Bonpensiero), Steve Buscemi (Tony Blundetto), Drea de Matteo (Adriana La Cerva), David Proval (Richie Aprile) and Annabella Sciorra (Gloria Trillo) make up for it as they discuss what it was like finding out that their respective characters were going to be killed and what roles they took after their "Sopranos" curtain call. (Drea de Matteo practically steals the show when she discusses her ill-fated decision to join the “Joey” cast.) There also are three spoofs and parodies, dubbed “Extra Gravy,” with contributions from “The Simpsons,” “Saturday Night Live” and, the highlight of the bunch, “MADtv.” Finally, select audio commentaries and a slew of lost scenes from the various seasons also are included.
With so much for fans to sink their teeth into, there’s very little in this complete series set to gripe about. That said, Gandolfini’s complete absence from any of the bonus features is a big disappointment. It would have been fascinating to hear from him in one of the “Supper” featurettes and, somewhat surprisingly, he’s not even included in any of the episode commentaries. Other than that, the only downside with this impressive set is its $399.99 sticker price. That’s a lot of coin to spend on a TV show, no matter how revolutionary that show may have been. Nonetheless, “The Sopranos: The Complete Series” is the kind of set diehards were hoping to get from HBO, with more than three and a half hours of never-before-seen footage, tons of great music and, of course, all 86 episodes contained in a fabulous keepsake book. Many will still bemoan the black screen and claim "The Sopranos" lost the magic toward the end of its run, but some quality time with this collection may just be enough to change their minds.