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The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season

The third season of HBO's award-drenched mob series breaks stride a little from its masterful first two runs. Whereas every previous episode was tightly controlled and every plotline sharp and purposeful, this new collection of 13 hour-long installments feels looser. While one major thread — Tony's (James Gandolfini) new affair with an erratic car dealer (Annabella Sciorra) — feels inevitable (and, at times, prosaic), provocative new characters and scenarios seem to pop in, shake things up, and then disappear without trace or repercussion, creating a suspicion that either creator David Chase's attention is wandering or else seeds are being planted for development in Fall 2002's long-time-coming and much-anticipated Season Four. Regardless, the third season features many of the series' most memorable conflicts — not to mention its best-ever episode, the Steve Buscemi-directed #11: Pine Barrens — including Meadow's (Jamie Lynn-Sigler) escalating love life, Janice's (Aida Turturro) tussle with the Russians, Christopher's (Michael Imperioli) promotion, Junior's (Dominic Chianese) health issues, Carmela's (Edie Falco) inner struggles, and Melfi's (Lorraine Bracco) trauma. Season Three also offers a closer look at some formerly peripheral characters, like Jason Cerbone's charming Jackie, Jr. and Steven R. Schirripa's hilarious Bobby Bacala, while Joe Pantoliano provides a new face with his terrific addition as a ball-busting underling with a temper and a needy mistress. Season Three is also notable for its dynamite guest performances from the likes of Charles S. Dutton and a brilliant turn by Burt Young. Even at its weakest so far, The Sopranos is captivating entertainment, cuttingly satirizing contemporary mores and family crises through the pragmatic, brutal lens of career criminals, adding a fresh twist to both the kitchen sink drama and the gangland thriller. This season is also the most technically adventurous so far, unafraid to break convention with creative inspiration. Not as inspired, however, is the digital manufacturing of episode #2's exchange between Tony and his mother (the late Nancy Marchand, who died between seasons two and three), during which Marchand's performance was awkwardly cobbled together from past scenes. Fudged specifically for this DVD set is the disappearance of actress Fairuza Balk, whose role as an undercover fed was recast after her formal introduction in Season Three's final episode. Her scenes were almost successfully re-shot and re-edited for this video release featuring actress Lola Glaudini, who will continue the role in Season Four. Each episode on this four-disc set is presented in excellent anamorphic transfers (1.85:1) with flawless Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and a Dolby 2.0 Surround option. Three episodes feature commentary tracks: Episode #9: The Tell-Tale Moozadell is discussed by actor Imperioli, who also penned the teleplay; Buscemi offers modest insight on his role as director of Episode # 11: Pine Barrens; and series creator David Chase chimes in on Episode #12: Amour Fou. There is also a three-and-a-half minute HBO promo featurette on Disc 4, hosted by Karen Duffy, but its inclusion is expendable. Each episode also includes brief recaps and previews. Four-disc digipak in folding paperboard case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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