This Holiday season, we are getting spoiled with complete series of TV shows on Blu-ray. You can read my glowing review of the Batman Blu-ray collection here.) Another great Blu-ray release this Holiday season is The Sopranos: The Complete Series. It wouldn’t have mattered if HBO had released that set as a bare-bones collection without any special features, but the set boasts an impressive array of extras. Just as importantly, The Sopranos: The Complete Series is perfect for what it represents, namely the beginning of the new breed of television programs.
The show lasted a long time; six seasons in total. There are so many characters on The Sopranos that when I initially watched the show as it aired, I would forget which character was which. Previous storylines from earlier seasons were difficult to remember, because HBO gave The Sopranos’ creator David Chase carte blanche to craft his story, with sometimes years without a new episode. This did impact the viewing experience at the time, and if there is any detriment to the series, I would say it is that. But that is not a problem anymore; especially when you have all the episodes in its highest-quality possible at your disposal on Blu-ray. Watching it in a quicker fashion definitely improves your enjoyment of the series. So if you are watching this series for the first time, you will probably enjoy it more than I initially did.
As for the premise of The Sopranos, it focuses on Tony Soprano. He sleeps until noon, has a boyish sense of humor, and enjoys old war movies on The History Channel. He has two high maintenance children, a more high maintenance wife, and he grew up with a controlling mother so manipulative he has to see a psychiatrist to deal with his depression and panic attacks. And in his spare time, he controls most of the organized crime in North New Jersey.
Creator David Chase’s masterpiece follows Tony is his travels through his three worlds: family, work and therapy. The plot arcs are simultaneously short and long-ranging, as resolution is found in each episode and also builds toward season climaxes and long-reaching series payoffs. The end result is a television show with the grand scope of a novel, but one that doesn’t forget to keep viewers interested with weekly rewards.
As much as the series hinges on the many supporting characters, the show IS Tony. Women love him, men fear him and viewers are captivated by all his complexities. The late James Gandolfini dazzles in his performance as one of the greatest characters ever seen on television. He is a man without faith in god or country and a man whose own allegiance to both his literal and figurative families is at best tepid. Often, his inconsistent and unpredictable behavior leaves audiences confused until he lays himself open in his therapist’s office, scenes that are sometimes uncomfortable to watch because of the degree of vulnerability Gandolfini allows Tony to reach.
The drama contains the sex and violence consistent with an examination of the mafia, but also provides its share of tenderness. Although a habitual philanderer, Tony aspires to be a great husband, father, brother, and son, but too often he lacks the strength or skills to care about anyone but himself. His longing for a modest normal life leaks into his dreams and therapy and illuminates a man who hates what he sees in the mirror but can’t do anything about it.
I get a little irked when I read that the television programs airing now are the cause of this “golden age of television.” But the credit goes to The Sopranos, and modern technology allows us to watch shows influenced by The Sopranos in new ways. We can now binge-watch shows on Netflix, and most of the critically acclaimed shows these days are also on cable, such as Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Every year, there are more and more signs that the TV landscape is moving away from the antiquated model of broadcast television, with shows receiving ancillary revenue from advertisers. Nowadays, there are so many different ways to watch television, whether it’s on cable, on demand, streaming, etc. It just so happens that now, while there are new ways to distribute, there’s plenty of intelligent television that viewers crave. Even the way people watch movies and TV in the future is going to change soon. Blu-rays will go away as everything continues to move further and further into digital. The point of my rant is that, good television is not for the reason for today’s “Golden Age;” that nod goes to the many advances in technology.
I’ve watched the show in full I think around three times in total, but I am just so appreciative that a package like The Sopranos: The Complete Series on Blu-ray exists. It is packed with more than five hours of bonus content, including a never-before-seen feature exploring the legacy and impact of the game-changing series. The retail price for this massive collection is $279.98, but you can get great deals on this set, especially on Amazon. But I wonder, now that a new generation of viewers can enjoy The Sopranos easier than ever before, how much more influence will this have creatively on the future of television. Only time will tell.