Last month I started watching The Sopranos, a show which has been on my "to watch" list since The Wire and The Shield both finished their respective (and amazing) runs on television. But the prohibitive cost and large size of the complete DVD boxed sets meant I wasn't willing to start watching them. The release of the complete set in a small box at a very reasonable price was enough to sway me over and as my first season review will attest - I'm rather glad I did.
I'm afraid this review is rather more spoiler-tastic than I had intended at first, but it's a difficult season to write about without being more explicit in the details. Hopefully I haven't given away anything major, but in case you haven't already seen the season, you might want to stop reading.
The second season feels somewhat different to the first season, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is which causes this different feel, but there's a definite shift in focus over this season. There's also a widening of the Soprano's world as well, which results in some great storylines and episodes.
But while some parts of the show widen out, others become smaller or disappear. In particular after having such a prominent and excellent role in the first season, Livia (Nancy Marchand) is greatly reduced in her appearances and potential influence - this isn't surprising at all considering what happened last season, but it did leave a bit of a gap. While Tony's sister Janice (Aida Turturro) and released wiseguy Richie (David Proval) step up to provide a fair amount of antagonism, they're not on the same level as Livia's brilliance. Janice in particular I found to be nothing more than an irritating waste of screen space - while this is intentional, it doesn't stop it being annoying.
Some of my favourite moments in this season include Christopher's film script arc, which initially started out as a "where the heck are they going with this?" and ended up with some fantastic scenes involving a few familiar faces. And the entire episode Commendatori which switched things up and was very interesting to watch.
I must admit while watching that Paulie's story arc (a great one by the way) initially slipped by me, it took a while for me to realise why he was so stressed out and acting up. But it built up wonderfully and resulted in some fantastic scenes, especially near the end of the season.
My favourite part of the show remains the scenes between Tony and Dr Melfi, these therapy scenes aren't as prevalent in the second season, but the ones that are there - brilliant. There's a great relationship between these two characters and I also like the widening of Dr Melfi's life, we get to see the knock-on effects of her treating Tony. Which means we also get to see more of the world outside the circle of the Sopranos.
In all the second season is a different beast to the first one, it has a wider scope and a different texture when compared to the first one. I wouldn't call it an evolution or even a direct improvement, it was certainly more enjoyable to watch and had some stupendous moments, but it was also very, very different. Almost to the point of heading in a different direction, I guess kind of like the way The Wire does it - same characters, different story.