03 November 2011

"The Sopranos" The Complete First Season

The Sopranos - The Complete First Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Nancy Marchand
Created by David Chase
DVD Box Set Release Date: 12 December 2000
List Price: $49.99

It's been more than a decade since the show premiered and anything that could be said about the content itself has already been said. I leave it to you to familiarize yourself with the show if you haven't already done so. Instead, this is a reflection of the context of my recent viewing of this season and how it struck me this time around. You're welcome to read on without fear of spoilers.

I had heard about The Sopranos, but not having HBO I hadn't actually seen the show until I rented the first season on DVD from Netflix (Disc One was my fifth-ever selection from Netflix) in 2001. By then, I had already been fighting depression for a while so a show about a depressed mob boss was both recognizable to me as part of my own reality as well as the kind of vicarious fantasy that attracts most of us to entertainment in the first place. I mean, I know I'd be a terrible gangster but I would also be a terrible secret agent or masked vigilante but part of me still wants to believe I could be James Bond or Batman. Why not be Tony Soprano?

This is, I believe, my fourth time through the first season of The Sopranos and in light of my recent treatment for depression and whatnot, I find that it resonates differently with me this time. Maybe it's because I'm older now, a little closer to Tony's age than I was when I first started watching a decade ago. Maybe it's because since then, I've developed Crohn's disease so I have a permanent antagonist in my life (similar to the nature of Tony's "work"). Maybe it's because I'm twelve days away from my first-ever therapy appointment. Who knows?

In any event, throughout these thirteen episodes I found myself reacting to things that hadn't quite registered with me previously. For instance, in the penultimate episode, "Isabella," Tony appears to have some kind of dream or hallucination. I got that the first time, but what didn't hit me fully until now was what it felt like for that character to discover that he had imagined something visceral. I recently experienced a taste of what it's like to hallucinate when my Captain Kirk toy from Burger King malfunctioned and made me believe I was hearing things. It's a peculiar kind of fear and anguish that I had never before experienced, so that episode spoke to me in a new way (pun intended).

Ever since my first viewing of the pilot episode, "The Sopranos," I have had three basic reactions to the series: 1) admiration for the sophistication of the writing, 2) a great sense of fun (James Gandolfini doesn't get nearly enough credit for his comedic timing) and 3) hunger. I swear they spend more time eating on that show than they spend on sex and violence combined!
James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in "Boca"
I could go on endlessly about this show, this season or any of the thirteen episodes here but I'll leave it at this: "College" is one of the finest episodes of any television series ever produced. It's still perfect. As for the DVD release, it looks terrific; I've been curious what the Blu-ray version looks like but I gotta say that I was wowed by the a/v quality of this 11 year old set. There's scant bonus content: an hour-long interview with series creator David Chase conducted by Peter Bogdanovich, a commentary track for the pilot by the same pair, and a couple of small promo featurettes HBO ran leading up to the series. Some of Chase's insights into the production of the series are surprising, such as his frank admission that despite the cohesion of the season, he and the other writers essentially made it up as they went along with just a skeleton of an arc.

Like Casablanca, I first came to The Sopranos suspicious of its reputation and walked away a believer. Even knowing what was coming, or would be said, I was still startled, amused or excited. TV shows generally abide by the law of diminishing returns for me, but The Sopranos is so rich with content that if anything, I find that repeat viewings reveal new things to me.