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The Sopranos: The Complete First Season

Few works of contemporary pop culture have been so wildly embraced by critics and consumers as The Sopranos. HBO's dark, absorbing, and incredibly funny Mafia series instantly became the unreachable standard bearer for quality television, well earning its plaudits with an immaculate attention to character and nuance, and an ensemble cast of unparalleled range, depth, and charisma. James Gandolfini stars as Tony Soprano, a rising New Jersey mob captain whose stressful balancing of strife on both his business and home fronts begins manifesting in anxiety-induced blackouts. His doctors turn him over to reluctant psychiatrist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), who is both fascinated and repulsed by her notorious client. Sopranos creator David Chase wisely avoids the obvious, superficial gags peppering the similarly plotted film Analyze This, instead tackling the material from the inside out: how does a man from Tony's world react to a therapy culture of victimization and medication? How does a mental health doctor treat a criminal patient without judging him? And, moreover, when the stress of maintaining a marriage and parenting teenagers is enough to drive most adults to the edge, at what extra cost does one also try to organize some not-so-bright troops, outwit the Feds, survive attempted hits, and deal with the passive-agressive manipulation of a mother like Livia Soprano (the wonderful Nancy Marchand)? At only 13 episodes, The Sopranos: The Complete First Season gives its audience more to digest than most series manage over their entire lifespans. And despite the company of numerous mob movie favorites, The Sopranos does (most of) them one better by entering the personal lives of its thieves and murderers. Who would've thought that Tony's shaky relationships with his conflicted wife (Edie Falco), resentful daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), doughy son (Robert Iler) and aging mother could hold its own for excitement against gangland slayings and subterfuge? Also with the terrific Dominic Chianese (The Godfather Part II's Johnny Ola) as Tony's indignant uncle Uncle Junior. HBO presents this four-disc collection in terrific 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (and, perhaps responding to the popularity of this DVD release, has also begun broadcasting the show in letterbox) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. The pilot episode features a fairly lifeless commentary by Chase and Peter Bogdanovich, who appears in the series as Dr. Melfi's colleague and therapist. Sadly, this audio track offers little aside from unprovocative details about locations and reiterations of the unenlightening topics discussed during the disc's other special feature, an hour-long interview between Bogdanovich and the liplocked Chase. Also included are two brief behind-the-scenes featurettes. Four-DVD digipak in paperboard slipcase.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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