Sopranos: Third Season
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The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season

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No one does drama like HBO. The recent Emmy nominations proved this as HBO garnered more nominations than the long established broadcast networks. The reasons are simple. HBO is not bound by the network suits representing ‘Standards and Practices’, the network watchdogs. Therefore attracts extremely talented writers, directors and actors, seeking to ply their crafts with fewer restrictions. They also rotate their primary Sunday night dramas to keep the audience tuning in each week for something new. The crown jewel of the HBO Sunday night line-up is the Sopranos. For those that have been in another part of the galaxy for the last four years this show chronicles the trials and tribulations of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the mob boss for New Jersey, father of two children and husband to the much-belabored Camela (Edie Falco). The first season focused on how Tony deals with the growing stress on his life. The second season expanded his reactions to growing problems with the federal government and breakdowns in his mob family. With the third season the emphasis shifted to Tony as a father. His two children Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and AJ (Robert Iler) are growing up and growing out of Tony and Camela’s control. These very normal problems are set as the backdrop for the pressures of Tony’s mob life spiraling out of control. These mob, er, job related problems include a new captain under Tony, Ralph (Joe Pantoliano) a real loose cannon, growing pressure from the FBI and difficulties with the Russian mob. What makes this show such a wild success is the juxtaposition of a Mafia crime drama (a perennial American fascination) with familiar family problems most viewers can easily identify with. The type of mob boss introduced by Al Pacino, tough yet sensitive, is done to perfection here with Tony Soprano. This is not just a story of a Mafia Chieftain but one of a man that is a husband and father. A man caught between two almost mutually exclusive worlds. This is a series that depends upon the dichotomy between the two family groups. The writers have successfully managed to achieve the delicate balance of story lines between these two worlds. As the viewer we have the vantage point of seeing both sides of each of the characters. We get to see how the lives the characters try so hard to keep apart actually blend into each other and have major impacts on the events. As parents Tony and Camela face much the same problems as too many parents do. Their daughter is off to college, becoming sexually active and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The younger son is acting up, constantly getting into trouble at school and home. Add to this decisions like who to have murdered and there is little doubt Tony needs a shrink!

This is one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled. By removing many of the constraints imposed on regular broadcast television, HBO has attracted the best of the best. Gandolfini treads the fine line of portraying a character that is caught between his love for his family, tradition and the demands of his chosen method of earning a living. Since this season focuses on him as a parent we see more of how Gandofini has to play father and husband. What makes his presentation so good is how he shows that his man, Tony, does not live in a vacuum, work and family both are difficult and he has problems separating the two. Falco as the lamentable wife and mother owns this role. In this season she grew more as a character than in the previous two seasons. Falco shows us a Camela that desperately wants to be a good Catholic yet she is a prisoner to the rich life style her husband’s illegal activities afford. She loves her family, including her husband, yet she is disappointed that their lives are so out of control. Sigler plays Meadow in a more multidimensional manner than previous story lines permitted. Meadow comes across as a spoiled Mafia princess confident that her father’s power can get her out of any trouble she may get into yet she defies her parents at every opportunity. The real break out character is Pantoliano as the explosive Ralphie. He pushes Tony to promote him to captain and like Tony’s daughter responds to the help by testing Tony’s patience every chance he gets. The scenes with Pantoliano provide not only excellent drama but often the comic relief needed to properly pace this series.

The series remains true to the vision of it’s creator, David Chase. As with the other seasons the responsibility of direction falls to a group of extremely talented people. Allen Coulter takes the helm for a number of episodes including the season opener, ‘Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood’. This episode sets the tone for he season with the growing distance between the parents and the children. While each director gets to add their own spin of the events they work together so well that the audience will not be whipped around in a mélange of styles. There are even guest directors like famed character actor Steve Buscemi. One notable episode is even written by cast member Michael Imperioli (Christopher) that is a bit ironic since his character is an aspiring screenwriter. More of Tony’s life as a child is explored through flashbacks to his mother and father’s interaction mirroring much of what Tony and Camela now face. There is one notable difference from the original airing on HBO. In the last episode titled "Army of One" Fairuza Balk (the Craft) originally player the female FBI agent sent to infiltrate Tony’s mob. With a little reediting and a substitution of Lola Glaudini in the role the performance of Ms Balk has been removed.

As with the other box sets this one is the standard for how it should be done. Several episodes feature cast and crew commentary tracks and a behind the scenes featurette. The Dolby 5.1 rocks. The sub woofer is used a bit frugally but when needed it roars into existence. The video is a reference quality 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation. Don’t disrespect the Bing, get this set if you know what’s good for ya.

Posted 8/31/02

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