Sopranos: Fourth Season
With decades of watching television behind me I can say without any reservation that the Sopranos forever changed the face of the television series. By merit of being on a premium cable network like HBO the Sopranos is able to push the envelope not only beyond broadcast TV but other cable shows. Each season contains numerous story arcs including a prevailing theme for the season. With season four the concentration is on Tony (James Gandolfini) and is lamentable wife Camela (Edie Falco) relationship as husband and wife. From almost the first scene of the season Tony is surrounded by uncertainly. The corporate crashes such as Enron and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center provide a backdrop for how the massive changes in the world even reach the mob. Camela is obsessed with financial security, fearful of a future without the money her husband provides. She is also growing as a person, growing away from the philandering Tony. She even fixates on his old school Italian henchman Furio (Federico Castelluccio) The number of plots within plots is staggering. We watch in awe as he many pressures in Tony’s life come crashing down on him. With a character like Tony Soprano it is vital to provide the audience with something they can identify with, a hook on an emotional level. While the backdrop of violence is something we are thankfully not familiar with we can understand the pressures on this most unusual couple. Their children Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and AJ (Robert Iler) are growing rapidly to an uncertain adulthood. Tony’s heir apparent Christopher (Michael Imperioli) is a junkie and slacker. Then there is the problems induced by his most productive captain, Ralph (Joe Pantoliano), a thread that ends in one of the most dramatic and gory moments in television history. We watch as life disintegrates for this powerful mob boss. Whereas the previous seasons set a high bar for drama this season is incredible in how emotions run wild. The last scene between Tony and Camela is one of the best dramatic moments anywhere. This series builds scene upon scene taking the audience on a roller coaster ride. This series is set in our real lives. The fears and trepidations we all have are resonated in the stories. While mob films have always provided a vicarious thrill to the audience this drama does more, it lets us see that our problems, albeit magnified, are shared by these outlaw icons, where the Godfather trilogy left off, the Sopranos move on.
Season after season this series proves what a dedicated ensemble cast can do. They mess on screen better than any drama in recent memory. Gandolfini is impressive, a screen presence that jumps out at you. He doesn’t play Tony as a one dimensional character but a man, albeit a powerful criminal, but still a man subject to problems at work and especially at home. The way he interacts with Falco’s Camela is brilliant. They have the familiarity of a long married couple. Falco shows a great character development arc in this season. Worried about the future of her family she starts slowly to become more independent from Tony. Camela begins to study for a real estate license; she finds herself sexually attracted to Furio and ultimately in the last episode has an emotional confrontation with her husband. It takes an incredible amount of skill to show such range, such control in the art of acting. Pantoliano (better known as Joey Pants) interjects much of the comic relief in his presentation of the loose cannon Ralph. His affair with Tony’s sister, his carefree attitude is brought to a violent end in one of the series’ most violent and controversial moments. Sigler has practically grown up on this series. Having a teenage daughter myself, I felt her performance resonated a lot of true moments. Tony has to watch his daughter grow into a young woman much to his chagrin. Sigler plays Meadow as the teen rebelling against her parents, trying to find her way in life and even in a few episodes connect with her brother. It is just one of so many great performances here.
Creator of the series, David Chase knows the formula to success and in this fourth season he has the wisdom not to mess with it. The selection of directors drew upon the last season. Directors like Tim Van Patten, Allen Coulter and Steve Buscemi provide a seamless transition from one episode to the next. While each director brings a fresh perspective to the screen each remains true to the overall vision of this epic story. The techniques used are more often found in film than television. The use of camera angles, lighting and the attention to the details in the sets has the high production values possible. Each director gives the freedom necessary to the talented cast to explore the most detailed aspects of their characters. Together this group of directors, under the guidance of Chase, weaves a tapestry that is rich in entertainment value. A show like this could never have been brought to life on network television. By this I don’t just mean the level of violence and strong language but more importantly, time. The Sopranos was not released according to a preset time table for a new season. While delayed by the events of 9-11 the fourth season was long in coming mostly due to how long each episode takes. HBO has provided this cast and crew the time necessary to craft the very best. In an age of push the episodes out fast this is a refreshing change, people that truly care about what they present to the public.
The only drawback to this box set is in the extras. Unlike the first season of the Shield from Fox, HBO has provided only four episodes with commentary tracks. With the Shield there was a revolving group of cast and crew commenting on each episode. That would have made this set perfect. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is near reference quality. There is no defect in the shadows; the color palette is rich and vibrant. The Dolby 5.1 audio booms out at you. Every gun shot, every punch translates to your living room. Most importantly the dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. This is a must have not only collectors of the previous three editions but for anyone interested in quality drama.