In recent years, cable has become increasingly dominant over network TV, as cable networks have crafted an impressive array of memorable comedies and dramas ("Deadwood", "Entourage", "The Shield"). However, there's really nothing that compares in the slightest to what David Chase accomplished with "The Sopranos", a remarkably well-crafted and marvelously acted series that has rightly walked away with numerous awards over the years.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it stars James Gandolfini (previously seen in films like "Get Shorty" and currently seen in films like "The Last Castle") as Tony Soprano, the head of a New Jersey family and, at the same time, the head of a Mafia family. The show's greatness is due in fairly large part to Gandolfini's tremendously dynamic performance, but Chase has rounded up a large legion of fantastic supporting players, such as Edie Falco as Carmela, a strong, intelligent character who stands up for herself and detects when she's being lied to, but also cares about Tony and her family. Chase gives even the smallest of characters a defined personality and great character details, making every individual a piece of the larger puzzle and each character great depth.
Chase also often does an amazing job moving between dark drama and dark comedy without being jarring. The tension that the directors, Chase and the cast are able to maintain is often remarkable; we know that something is major is going to happen and we sit on the edge of our seats just waiting for something to go down.Chase's decision to also shoot on location gives the show a further feeling of reality and atmosphere, as well. Further adding to the experience is the selection of music, most notably the opening theme, "Woke Up This Morning", which really provides a superb introduction to the show.
While the series finale generated some considerable controversy due to creator David Chase's choice on how to wrap things, "The Sopranos" was otherwise still going just as strong in its final season. The first half of the final season had Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) in college and now living with fiancÚ Finn DeTrolio (Will Janowitz), while Tony was trying to make peace with Carmella. However, everything changed when Tony was shot by someone close to him.
As this second half of the sixth season begins, Tony has started to change, seemingly wondering in some of the quieter moments of the episode where his life has gone and what the big picture is (such as when he discusses this with Carmella in "Chasing It".) AJ also wonders what the big picture is as he sinks deep into depression, ending up in the hospital. Tony, while starting to look at the big picture after getting a second chance, also realizes that he has to concentrate on those around him, as he begins to question loyalty and realize that tensions with the New York City crew are beginning to boil over.
The series continues to offer rich storylines and powerful performances that burrows deeper into the minds of these characters and develops them even further. The performances are also remarkable, as Gandolfini continues to offer a remarkably rich and engaging performance as Tony, showing a somewhat lighter side here - although reminding us at times about the darkness that Tony is still capable of. Michael Imperioli, Falco, Steve Schirripa and others offer excellent supporting performances. Overall, while the final moments of the series are certainly debated, the show's final episodes remain riveting television, soaked with dread and powered by superb writing and performances.
Season 6/pt 2 episodes:
"Soprano Home Movies"
"Walk Like a Man"
"Kennedy and Heidi"
"The Second Coming "
"The Blue Comet"
"Made in America"
VIDEO: The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen by HBO. I'm thankful that HBO has presented the shows in widescreen, because the original compositions are so terrific. Also, HBO's presentation of the first season did have some minor concerns - a little shimmering at times, a few slight instances of pixelation - which don't appear again here. Sharpness and detail throughout the episodes is excellent; the picture remained well-defined even in some dimly-lit moments. Again, flaws are kept to a bare minimum. I noticed no shimmering, edge enhancement or pixelation. All that I spotted was the occasional very slight instances of grain.
Colors remain natural and accurate - as the show is filmed on location, colors really depend on where the scene is at the moment. There's an episode that mostly takes place in Italy, for example, that offers brighter and more vibrant colors. Otherwise, the film's (I keep wanting to say "film", because that's what each episode feels like) color palette is mainly subdued. Overall, "The Sopranos" looks terrific and the few concerns that I had with the image quality of the original season DVDs don't re-appear here. Very nice, HBO.
SOUND: As with previous seasons, the shows are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The show's sound design isn't quite up to the level of films that are released in theaters today, but, at the same time, the surround mix is certainly better than expected for television material. The interior scenes are generally subdued, with the audio focused from the front. Exterior scenes open up slightly more and use the surrounds nicely for some minor ambient sounds. Audio quality remained excellent throughout, as the music sounded rich and strong, while dialogue and ambient sounds came through clearly and crisply. As with the video quality, very nice. The music remains the same.
EXTRAS: Audio commentary on "The Second Coming" with Robert Iler; Stevie Van Zandt and Arthur Nascarella offer a commentary on "The Blue Comet", Steve Schirripa offers a commentary on "Sopranos Home Movies" and Dominic Chianese offers a commentary on "Remember When".
The final disc also includes two featurettes: the making of "Cleaver", Christopher's horror film, and a featurette on the music from the series.
Final Thoughts:Overall, while the final moments of the series are certainly debated, the show's final episodes remain riveting television, soaked with dread and powered by superb writing and performances. Recommended.