Recently HMV have started selling the new and much, much smaller set for The Sopranos for an exceptionally respectable price (£70, both in stores and online), this meant that the series had almost crossed over the last boundary between myself and purchasing it. A small windfall on the National Lottery (same night as the Derren Brown predicted it, only there was no trickery on my part) removed the final obstacle - lack of finances.
So I splashed out and picked up the boxed set, which I'll review in it's entirety at some point in the future. Right now I'm going to look at each season individually. There's a few things to go through before starting, first of all - I've only now watched the first season, I genuinely have no idea what's ahead. Secondly I won't be spoilering the events of the first season here, there will probably be a cut-away post about that sometime next week instead.
All of this aside, let us push on and look at the first season set.
These days, it's getting tougher and tougher to make a killing in the killing business. Just because you're "made"... doesn't mean you've got it made."
If there is anything you could say about HBO it's that they are pretty much the kings of quality television, looking back at the shows I've enjoyed over the years (and more importantly still continue to enjoy) I have to admit that there are more than a few shows from the HBO stable amongst the ranks. Shows like The Wire, Six Feet Under, Generation Kill, The Corner and Curb Your Enthusiasm - all amazing shows that are great to watch the first time and continue to enrapture even when watched for the dozen-th time.
After watching the first season of The Sopranos I can say with confidence that it will be joining the ranks of the all time greats. It pretty much ticks all the boxes that I look for in a drama show; we've got characters of dubious ethics, dark humour, violence, tight and sophisticated dialog, subtext, fantastic facial (and physical performances) and most importantly of all - an ongoing storyline told over an entire season mixed with 'episodic stories' as well.
The characters are well realised and easily identifiable - with some shows it can initially be overwhelming to try and follow the cast - especially the names of the various characters I didn't find it to be so with The Sopranos, the players fit into place and their names are repeated enough to allow you to follow each one.
The show itself boasts a stable of nuanced performances from a frankly stellar cast; from James Gandolfini's blistering performance as Tony Soprano and right across the board they manage to nail their roles - mixing just the right amount of stereotyped behaviour alongside actions which buck the aforementioned stereotypes and round out the characters. I was very pleased to see Drea de Matteo in this, my previous experiences of her were from Rescue Me and frankly she's great in both (even if acting the two characters she portrays isn't much of a stretch as they are rather similar at times).
But the greatest enjoyment for myself are in the psychiatric sessions between Tony and his shrink Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). I have a more than passing interest in psychology and psychiatry (having both studied and worked in the field in the past) and as such these therapy sessions added a whole extra dimension to the show. Suffice to say the pair are great in them and the scenes between them add a lot to the whole tapestry of the show, I feel they are quite possibly my favourite part.
There is one other performance of considerable note in this season, but to go into who it is and why they give such an amazing performance would run towards spoilering the season more than I want to - it'll have to wait until the later, spoiler laden post which should come out next week sometime.
Suffice to say I was thoroughly impressed with the show's freshman season, it's easy to see why so many people have enjoyed The Sopranos over the years if this is the standard the show starts out at. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the second season tomorrow.
Now, onto the physical nature of the set itself. It's an exceptional piece of work in many aspects. The new release has discarded the huge boxes of the previous edition in favour of standard DVD cases with interior holders. There are just a few oddities about it which let the production down. The first is the relatively low amount of extras - there's about as many as in The Wire's DVD releases (i.e. naff all). The second is a minor annoyance, the set has four discs for thirteen episodes, you'd expect these to be spaced 3, 3, 3 and a 4 - but they're not. Two sets have four episodes, which means one set has just two episodes on it. Considering the low number of extras it's a little odd.
The third issue is the lack of the old "Play All" button, seriously DVD manufacturers - it's the best button in the menu system after the one for subtitles - don't neglect it! And the final issue is a bit of "special" from the inside cover layout artist. The images chosen and placed above each episode in the list normally bare absolutely no relation to the episode below it. It's like someone just couldn't be bothered to take the extra couple of hours it would take to pick an appropriate picture for each episode. Pretty sloppy work and I hope whoever is responsible feels guilty.
The final issue I have with the set is the relative volume, the show has an exceptionally quiet sound track, I have to turn my television up to around double it's normal volume to hear properly (compared to most other DVD releases) - while I do have slightly impaired hearing this is still a little excessive.
Audio commentary on episode 1
Video Interview with David Chase
Two behind-the-scenes featurettes
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1 Widescreen
Languages: English, French
Run Time: 12 hours 34 mins
Subtitles: English, French, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish