When David Chase first envisioned The Sopranos, he conceived it as a four season story. The show was a hit both critically and with the viewing public, and by the time the fourth season rolled around HBO didn't want to loose the jewel of their original programming crown. They threw a bunch of money at Chase, and he decided that maybe there were six seasons worth of stories to tell. So now we come to season six, with is actually more like season six and seven. HBO aired the first 12 episodes of the season in 2006 (each season is usually only 13 episodes long) and then will be showing the second half in 2007. This elongated and chopped up season has caused some fans of the show to proclaim that this group of episodes is padded and that not a lot happens. While it is true that the series stumbled slightly at the beginning, taken as a whole this set is just as strong as the earlier shows.
The Sopranos is the story a Tony Soprano, a man, like many of us, has trouble balancing his home and professional life. The difference is that he's in the mob, the head of his own family in New Jersey, and his work involves illegal gambling, prostitution, and other activities that have him targeted by the feds. As the tag line for the first season goes, if one family doesn't kill him, the other one will.
This season starts off with a bang as Tony gets seriously wounded in a plausible yet unexpected way that sends the series spinning off in new directions. As Tony lays near death, his officers all plot and try to position themselves so that they'll be ready to make their move when the boss man dies.
Meanwhile Tony is going through a more than people realize. Laying in a coma he dreams that he's a regular business man on a trip who's accidentally changed wallets with another traveler. As he tries to get home, things start to get a bit strange and unreal.
Another major plot line involves Tony's captain Vito. When a friend-of-a-friend sees the made man dressed in leather dancing in a gay bar in New York, word gets around and he flees. This only confirms the rumors, and Tony finds himself in the middle of things again. Vito's wife is the sister of a made man in the New York mob, and he wants the man killed for dishonoring his sister. Many in Tony's crew think that he should be killed too, but Tony has a new outlook on life after his brush with death. His live-and-let-live philosophy doesn't go over well with the people in New York who demand that either Tony kills his captain or they will.
This season also reveals some things about Paulie's history that are better left unrevealed, shows how growing up Soprano has affected AJ, and Christopher finds himself in LA pitching a script idea to none other than Ben Kingsley.
So, how does this season stack up against the previous ones? Pretty well over all. The season does have some weak parts however. Tony's coma-dream takes over two episodes and though that event sets up the rest of the season, it really went on for too long. The same can be said of Vito's exile in New Hampshire. While it was interesting seeing him in another environment and how he acted there this story line didn't progress as fast as it should and was ultimately not that meaningful.
Those were the low points. The rest of the series is just as strong and interesting as ever. The plot involving Paulie and his mother was heart-wrenching in parts and showed a lot about the mobster's character. Likewise AJ's attempt to "take care of business" was interesting and showed how immature and clueless the boy is. There was also a good amount of humor in this season. When Bobby talks a rapper into getting shot in order to get publicity, you know things aren't going to turn out like they've planned. The scene where Laren Bacall is leaving the awards ceremony was also hilarious.
The twelve episodes that make up the first half of the sixth season of The Sopranos come on four Blu-ray discs that are housed in a fold out case, just like the earlier seasons. The case is housed in a nifty slipcase with a magnetic door.
The Sopranos was originally broadcast in HD, so it's no surprise that this set looks great. The level of detail and sharpness of these discs rivals that of the cable broadcast if only slightly. The colors are not splashy and vivid, but natural looking which is good. On the digital side of things the image holds up well too. Grain isn't a problem and neither is posterization. This is a very nice looking set of discs.
This season set comes with an uncompressed 5.1 PCM track as well as a Spanish stereo mix. It's mildly disappointing that they didn't include a Dolby Digital Plus or even a DD 5.1 track. The uncompressed track did sound excellent however. The low tones of the opening song sounded much better than they did over cable, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time. Good use was made of the soundstage, especially during the action sequences. When the action was over however, the audio still delivered with nice ambient sounds filling the room. A top-notch sounding set. There are optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
The bonus items are pretty anemic especially for a set that costs so much. The only things included are four audio commentaries. On the second episode Edie Falco (Carmella), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow), and Robert Iler (AJ) give their thoughts, which aren't that enlightening. They mainly joke around and reminisce a bit. There isn't that much solid information about the show unfortunately.
Writer Matthew Weiner provides the commentary for the seventh show, Luxury Lounge. He talked a bit more in detail about the show and the characters, but it wasn't an incredibly dynamic track. My favorite commentary track was for the ninth episode in this season, The Ride, which was made by writer Terence Winter, Michael Imperioli (Christopher), and Tony Sirico (Paulie.) This track has a good mixture of information about the show and the characters with a few light moments sprinkled in. The final commentary has David Chase himself talking about the show over the last episode in this set, Kaisha. This was pretty disappointing. He was dry and didn't really say anything of value.
Though some fans proclaimed that nothing happens in this first half
of the season, that is not true. People get whacked, there are pressures
on Tony from all sides, and all of the character development that drives
the series is still present. This Blu-ray set looks and sounds superb.
Here's hoping that the first five seasons make their way to BR soon.