01 December 2011

"The Sopranos" The Complete Fifth Season

The Sopranos The Complete Fifth Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn DiScala, Drea De Matteo, Aida Turturro, Steven R. Schirripa, Vincent Curatola, John Ventimiglia, Katherine Narducci and Steve Buscemi
Created by David Chase
DVD Release Date: 7 June 2005
List Price: $49.99
780 Minutes

I'll be honest: I dreaded going into this season of The Sopranos, which opens with Tony and Carmela having separated. Even knowing how the season would play out--and being mindful it is, after all, "just a TV show"--there was still a part of me that didn't want to be confronted with such subject material. In my previous season reactions (it seems disingenuous to call them "reviews"), I've noted how the show has resonated with me in a very personal way this time around so you can well imagine how this season hit me. Tony may not have been a particularly good husband, but he doesn't want to dismantle his family or end his marriage to Carmela.

We see him react in ways directly out of Midlife Crisis 101: He burns his candle at both ends, primarily chasing women. Tony puts on a happy face to his captains, and to Dr. Melfi, but we know that Tony isn't doing so well as he would have others believe. Maybe I'm just projecting, of course, but what makes Tony Soprano such a compelling character is ultimately the same thing that made J.R. Ewing the greatest character of his era: Despite all the unconscionable things they say and do, nothing is more important to either of them than their own families. There's not a person in the world that either wouldn't double-cross, cheat, lie to, steal from or even kill if it needed to be done for their families. Preservation of the family is Tony's primary objective, and we see that throughout this season in several capacities.

Beyond trying in his own way to prolong his marriage to Carmela, we also see Tony bond with his cousin, Tony Blundetto. Tony B. is one of several mobsters released from prison, and their relationship is similar in many respects to that of Tony with Christopher, but with one key caveat: Tony B. views himself as his cousin's equal, remembering the boy from his youth rather than the man who now runs "the family." Tony B. ultimately puts Tony's sense of loyalty to his family to its most challenging test to date, after he is caught up in a war between Carmine Luppertazzi's successors.
Tony Uncle Johnny (James Gandolfini) & Tony Uncle Al (Steve Buscemi)
A.J. enters the center stage at long last, and we see Tony and Carmela confront the difficulties of raising a teenage son after having finally weathered Meadow's teen years. The differences between brother and sister translate into a wholly different experience for their parents. I suspect anyone who has been part of a family with children of both sexes--as a sibling, or as a parent--will relate easily to these family dynamics. Also, we see how the separation affects A.J., which I suspect is fairly representative of how boys his age do react. (I was barely 5 when my parents divorced, so I had long since processed everything by the time I was a teen.)

This season also gives us Uncle Junior's trial, and the beginning of his mental deterioration; the unholy union of Janice with Bobby Baccala; and, of course, Adriana being blackmailed into working for the FBI. Each of these subplots made me wince, culminating in the season's penultimate episode ("Long Term Parking") in which we see the end of a beloved character. I knew it was coming the first time through, and I definitely knew it was coming this time, and it upset me both then and now anyway. I see that as a testament to the quality of this series.

I do have to say, though, that when I did the final math, I rated the season as a whole a solid 4 stars out of 5; there were a couple of 3-star episodes this time, and only two 5-star episodes. To be honest, I think I bumped up "Marco Polo" to 5-stars just because of what it meant to me during this specific viewing. I genuinely like this season and I feel it's stronger than the second, but it just doesn't feel like it hits as many highs as three or four. Then again, maybe that's just my own sensitivity here.

One complaint I do have is that the commentary tracks are not particularly great. They're average, I suppose, but the truth is I've found every Sopranos commentary save the pilot's entirely forgettable. I could not actually endorse anyone spending the five hours to play the commentary tracks for this season (though Drea De Matteo's was kind of fun, if repetitive). The worst offender of the lot is Peter Bogdanovich's commentary for "Sentimental Education" which is outright dreadful. He mumbles several times and it's almost like the stereotype of the self-important, rambling professor who speaks in monotone and doesn't remember to even try to keep his audience's attention.

First Season | Second Season | Third Season | Fourth Season | Season Six, Part I | Season Six, Part II

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