The Whacky World of THE SOPRANOS

‘Tis the season for bulky, pricey complete series box sets, and the bulkiest and priciest of them all is The Sopranos: The Complete Series, available starting tomorrow. The set consists of all the previously-released DVDs of the show, plus the soundtrack CDs (featuring music used in the series), and two newly-produced DVDs of bonus material. The show itself is a known quantity, as are the previous season sets. If you don’t have The Sopranos on DVD yet, buying this set is cheaper than buying all seven DVD sets individually (and only a little more expensive than buying used copies of all seven of them). If you have no Sopranos in your collection, it makes sense to save up for the complete set — though I have the sinking feeling that Time-Warner might try to spring a Blu-Ray version on us sometime down the road, forcing us to buy it all over again. (It depends on whether you think that Blu-Ray will supplant DVD or whether you think it won’t. I’m with the nay-sayers, myself, and so I’m not afraid to buy standard DVDs. Perhaps I should be, though.) So the question is, are the new bonus features worth the price of this set if you already have some or all of the season sets?

I think they might be, but only because most of the earlier sets kind of skimped on bonus features — apart from commentaries and a few other extras here and there, there wasn’t that much. The bonus discs in this set really just provide some of the things that should have been on the earlier sets, like deleted scenes and the Museum of Television and Radio “Whacked Sopranos” panel about characters who were killed off (it appeared before the end of the show’s run, but was not included on the final season set). One thing in favour of these discs is that both of them contain a fair amount of material, unlike some “bonus” discs that try to fob you off with under an hour of features. The features included, and their timings, are as follows:

Bonus Disc 1

“Supper With The Sopranos,” part 1 – David Chase, Allen Coulter, Terence Winter, Aida Turturro, Dominic Chianese and Robert Iler (36 minutes and 50 seconds)

“Supper With The Sopranos,” part 2 – David Chase, Alan Taylor, Matthew Weiner, Ilene Landress, Edie Falco, Stevie Van Zandt (38:02)

Deleted Scenes from all six seasons (17:16)

Bonus Disc 2

MTR Panel: “The Whacked Sopranos” (1:09:28)

David Chase interviewed by Alec Baldwin (43:15)

Parodies of The Sopranos from The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and Mad TV (8:09)

As you can see, James Gandolfini is a no-show in these new special features, which reduces their value somewhat; sure, it’s David Chase’s show, but if you’re going to spend a lot of money for bonus features, you want to hear from the star. The two “supper” segments are entertaining features in a format that DVD producers seem to love when it comes to arty TV shows — the Twin Peaks set has a similar thing with David Lynch and cast meeting for dinner — but it creates a relaxed mood, and is probably a more enjoyable way for the cast and crew to talk about the show than one of those talking-head documentary things. The insights aren’t anything astonishing (apparently people were really mad about the ending; David Chase is surprised that there was so much anger about it; Terence Winter points out, rightly, that we wouldn’t have liked it if we’d seen Tony’s brains blown out either), but it’s worthwhile. As is Baldwin’s long interview with Chase, though Baldwin is overly inclined to a) suck up and b) talk about himself and his own career instead of asking about the damn show.

The impression I always get from Chase — which is confirmed in this interview and every other place where he mentions that The Sopranos started out as a movie idea — is that he never really thought this show would have a long run, and had to keep rejiggering the show to keep it going, to get six seasons out of what was essentially one-season idea. As he tells Baldwin, sometimes the seams showed. I think that’s part of the appeal of The Sopranos, like The Wire, that because it didn’t have a particularly sustainable premise, it had to keep re-inventing itself. Some seasons, some episodes had problems because the writers were trying to figure out where to take the show next, but the end result is a show where many different kinds of episodes and stories were done, whereas most shows (including good ones) make the same episode over and over in different forms.

The deleted scenes are, well, deleted scenes. You get to hear Tony call Rudy Giuliani a “cocksucker motherfuck,” and so on.

My final feeling is that this is a good set of special features, not great, probably not enough to demand that you invest in the set if you already have the complete series. What Time Warner should do — what any company owes the fans of a show when it releases a package like this — is make the bonus features discs available for sale, separately, so that people who have already bought the other seasons don’t have to buy them all over again. Doesn’t that seem fair?

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