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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/13/02

The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season
2000 - (2001) - Brad Grey Television/HBO (HBO)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/B-

Specs and Features
Approx. 696 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1:77:1), 16x9 enhanced, 4 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch - 4 episodes on Disc One, 3 on the rest with additional material on Disc Four), custom "library-box" packaging, audio commentaries on 4 episodes (Commendatori, From Where To Eternity, The Knight in White Satin Armor and Funhouse), 2 featurettes, filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (7-8 chapter stops per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"Mama always said you'd be the chosen one…"

Not having HBO, my introduction to The Sopranos was only through news stories and award shows. I didn't actually see an episode until I broke down and rented the first volume of the first season a few months ago. The first four episodes of the series brought an amused, but worried, curiosity. The show's characters seduced me by how real and identifiable they were. I especially love Edie Falco's Carmela. But when I got too comfortable, the series jarred me with gratuitous violence. You get to know any given guest-spot actor... and he gets killed before the end of the episode.

Thus, I both love and hate The Sopranos at the same time. Violence and language are perfectly fine in their place, but I found its inclusion in this show to basically reason, "Hey! We're on HBO! Let's do something we can't do on a network!" Badda-Bing! A girl takes off her top, gets shot in the breast, and says "[email protected]!" on the way down.

When given the chance to review the entire second season of The Sopranos, it came with both interest and reluctance. Are these characters or situations I really want to revisit? It only took five minutes to be convinced: YES! Season Two picks up where the first year left off, and is accessible to new viewers at any rate, though with the first three seasons now available on DVD, I would think you'd start with season one.

But, and I'm sure you already know this, The Sopranos is an adult show. Some of the story lines could easily be "cleaned up" for network television, but they would lose a lot of the character. Even though I really enjoy ASPECTS of the series, I myself am not so quick to recommend it. But if you are reading this, I'm sure you don't need any convincing. I judge this box set not on my personal feelings of what I feel is the extraneous way of telling the story, but rather on the storylines themselves and the quality of the performances. I'm sure I'm not the only person offended by some of the content, but I know that if you're reading this review, it's a non-issue to you already.

Disc One

Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist's Office… (Episode 14) - Tony's hippie-dippy sister, Janice, comes to Jersey to visit the hospitalized Livia, their mother. Tony's a bit worried, because Janice is not the flighty person she seems, and he fears that she's vying for not only her mother's favor, but also for a way to take control of Tony's territory. At the same time, Tony's psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, has been hiding in a motel room, after an attempt on her life in the previous season. Tony pleads for her to treat him again, but she flatly refuses on personal grounds.

Do Not Resuscitate (Episode 15) - Big Pussy, already under Tony's suspicious eye, begins meeting with a FBI agent, after he is worried that his wife not only suspects him of his lifestyle but that's she considering divorce. Meanwhile, Janice wheels and deals with Tony to keep Livia's house in the family, despite Tony's frustration towards both his mother and his sister. At the same time, Uncle Junior urges Tony to make peace with Livia as she's dying, and accidentally has learned that her kids have her on DNR.

Tootle-Fucking-Do (Episode 16) - Richie Aprile is released from jail, and immediately rekindles both his relationship with Janice and his old boss Tony. Dr. Melfi has been seeking some psychiatric help of her own from Dr. Kupferberg, her old mentor. She flipped out in front of Tony, when he sought parenting advice after his daughter Meadow has thrown a party at Livia's house.

Commendatori (Episode 17) - Tony takes Paulie and Christopher to Italy on a business trip, where he meets a female don and gains a new lieutenant, Furio. Back at home, Carmela is counseling Pussy's wife, Angie, not to divorce him.

Disc Two

Big Girls Don't Cry (Episode 18) - Furio comes to America, and Tony gives him a job at childhood friend Artie Bucco's restaurant. Janice continues to infuriate Tony by trying to take out a loan on Livia's house, but to his relief, Dr. Melfi accepts him back into her practice. And Christopher takes an acting class, though he quickly beats up another classmate.

The Happy Wanderer (Episode 19) - The owner of a sporting goods store owes the mob big time after losing in a poker game, and Tony accepts his son's SUV as payment. But after Tony gives it to Meadow as a present, she recognizes it as her friend's car, destroying their friendship.

D-Girl (Episode 20) - Christopher meets Amy, a development exec who's currently working on a movie with Jon Favreau. During an affair, she agrees to give Jon the script, but Christopher discovers that they've been working some of his "family" secrets into the film that they're currently working on. At the same time, Anthony Jr. discovers existentialism after he crashes the family car, and declares that God is dead and the universe doesn't matter. Even grounding means nothing.

Disc Three

Full Leather Jacket (Episode 21) - Racked with guilty about his affair, Christopher asks Adriana to marry him, and she accepts, but he's soon afterwards shot by two thugs working for Richie. Meanwhile, Carmela doesn't want Meadow to go to college to Berkeley, and uses some intimation tactics to get her next-door neighbor's Georgetown-alumni twin to write a letter of recommendation.

From Where to Eternity (Episode 22) - Pussy becomes so paranoid that Tony thinks he's tipping off the family secrets to the FBI, that he agrees to kill the thugs who shot Christopher. Meanwhile in the hospital, Christopher becomes quite scared when he finds his mortality. And Carmela finds out about Tony's mistress, and begins to doubt her commitment to Tony, and her advice to Angie.

Bust Out (Episode 23) - A confused Carmela kisses her hunky wallpaper guy, but is stung when he stands her up on a date. At the same time, the Feds tell Pussy that they saw Tony whack one of the thugs, but can't ID the accomplice, who just happens to be Pussy who, of course, denies it was he.

Disc Four

House Arrest (Episode 24) - Tony, worried that the Feds are watching him closely, visits his sanitation business for the first time in years, and is shocked when he finds that Richie and Junior are using the business to deal cocaine. At the same time, Junior begins to date a policeman's widow who doesn't know that he's under house arrest.

The Knight in White Satin Armor (Episode 25) - Richie wants to kill Tony for cutting off his drug dealing, and Junior warns Tony. So Tony tries to whack Richie, but Janice gets to him first, shooting him during a heated argument before their wedding night. Wanting to get closer to Carmela, Tony tries to break it off with his Russian mistress, but she tries to commit suicide and Carmela doesn't believe Tony was sincere.

Funhouse (Episode 26) - Tony gets busted on fraud charges, after Livia gets stopped by the Feds on her way to her other daughter's house in Arizona using a stolen ticket. Tony gets suspicious of "certain" individuals in his organization when the Feds start asking him some oddly personal questions. Through a dream, Tony realizes that Pussy has been leaking secrets to the Feds, and takes it upon himself to whack Pussy.

This season works as a self-contained unit, with the underlying thread being Pussy's betrayal of Tony. It's all very operatic, but very believable at the same time. Every actor featured has a complete arc and juicy things to do. Edie Falco's Carmela is torn between her religious devotion to her marriage and the obvious signs that Tony is not the faithful husband she wishes he'd be. Aida Tuturro's Janice is a conniving opportunist who gets shocked back into sincerity when she accidentally kills her fiancée. Vincent Pastore's Pussy has been on the outside of the law, and attempts to do the right thing, as hard as it is for him to hurt Tony. And Lorraine Bracco's Dr. Melfi is forced to face her own demons after she's been chased by the mob.

But the best performance of all of these is of James Gandolfini's Tony. Gandolfini rightly won his Best Actor Emmy, as the mob boss who has hate and fury surrounding him at all times. Though he wants a good life for his wife and kids through the only means he knows how, he is caught in a lifestyle that is now beginning to catch up with him. As the Feds circle around, thanks in part to Pussy, Tony begins to realize that his control, the one thing that over everything else he's had, is spiraling out of hand. Even though this season ends right as he's finally confronted by the Feds, the audience, as well as Tony, knows that the party is about to come to a crashing halt.

And despite the amazingly strong thread, my favorite episode is the detour of D-Girl, a great episode that features a heartbreaking storyline that culminates in Christopher's dream as a writer being permanently dashed against the rocks. Including the inspired casting of Alicia Witt as Amy, Christopher's new love interest and Anthony Jr.'s hilarious exploration of existentialism as the B-story, this episode is just perfect.

The second season is presented in 1:77.1 anamorphic widescreen, the aspect ratio the show is currently showing in re-runs. Originally shot in this aspect ratio, and not the full-frame original broadcast, the episodes maintain a very cinematic quality in both style and lighting. The transfer is good, but not great. Overall, the episodes are a bit lacking in detail, and some of what appears to be grain is present. However, there are no problems with edge enhancement and the colors do not bleed. I was expecting a little more out of the transfer, but I'm sure that it's the cinematography style and not any defect in the disc or the format.

Episodes are presented with a 5.1 surround track, although there is very little difference between this track and the 2.0. That's not to say that it's a bad track, as the dialogue and other elements can be heard clearly. But the surrounds are never in much use, except for occasional music cues and some directional gunshots.

The set includes four commentary tracks that vary in both tone and style, as do the episodes they represent. On Commendatori, we see that director Tim Van Patten really loves these characters, as his comments are mostly on the history of the characters and the reasoning behind why they are doing what they do in the episode. There are some long pauses, but most the information here is pretty interesting. On From Where to Eternity, director Henry J. Bronchetein and Line Producer Ilene Landress discuss a lot of the little detail choices they made in the episode and point out several things that I never noticed (for example, Christopher's hospital room has two entrances, and both are used for different reasons. If a character runs into the room, they run through the door that is further from the bed, so they'll be running for a longer period of time). On The Knight with White Satin Armor, we hear from director Alan Coulter, who is THE Sopranos director. Coulter explains that a lot of the choices that he made for the episode were made to fit with the continuity of the series, and gives explanations behind several of them. Line Producer Ilene Landress has to prod him every now and then, but overall, the most informative track. Lastly, on Funhouse, director John Patterson supplies a lot of really good information behind the location shooting. The information is great, but the delivery is very flat (think a less-energetic Ben Stein). It makes the commentary a little boring for the casual listener, but there's a lot of great information in here.

Included on Disc Four are a few additional extras. The Real Deal featurette runs about 4 and a half minutes, and with critics and "experts" taling about the authenticity of the series and how great it is. A Sit Down with the Sopranos runs 13 and a half minutes, and is a collection of interviews with the cast and creator David Chase.

As if that wasn't enough, also included are some bland filmographies and a listing of all the awards this season won and was nominated for. To be honest, the extras on this set were INCREDIBLY self-serving. It's one thing to have a behind-the-scenes featurette, but it's another to have two featurettes on how great the show is. While the commentaries make up for the lack of in-depth features, I would have loved to see a featurette showing the process of how an episode is written, filmed and then edited. Or outtakes. Or deleted scenes. Or ANYTHING. Still, fans of the show certainly aren't complaining, and the commentaries wetted my appetite just fine.

If you aren't of the faint of heart, you will thoroughly enjoy this season of The Sopranos. I don't agree that this is one of television's greatest series, but it's certainly fine, heavy-handed entertainment.

Graham Greenlee
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