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TV On DVD Recommendation: 'The Sopranos'

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
February 4th, 2008 9:26am EST
The Sopranos"The Sopranos" (HBO) - Six seasons, 86 episodes total. Perfect For: Anybody who's never seen an episode of television's finest series.

Everyone already knows how it ended, but accompanying television's greatest family on its journey to the famous black screen is the perfect remedy for the writers' strike blues.

"The Sopraons" hit the airwaves in 1999 to acclaim never before heaped upon a television series. This was the first time something on the small screen garnered critical notice on par with its big-screen contemporaries.

The praise was well-deserved because "The Sopranos" set a new standard for television drama, leading to the abundance of cinematic series currently filling the schedules of broadcast and cable networks.

Shows as diverse as "Lost", "Grey's Anatomy", "Jericho", and "Gilmore Girls" have all adopted the overall goal of David Chase: To put something on TV that compares to feature films.

With the exception of "The Wire" there hasn't been a series that compares to "The Sopranos" in quality; however, and many devotees of the wave of high-concept dramas that have dominated this young century have never experienced where it all began.

It's time to change that and put your Blockbuster or Netflix subscription to work for you. While pining away for your favorite dramas as the writers' strike enters its fourth month why not enjoy the best one ever made? One that most people couldn't see due to a lack of HBO.

Sopranos

"Sopranos"-related scribblings have been endless since the series debuted. Critics cited the groundbreaking violence, intense realism and dynamic characters (crafted by both the performers and the writers) as the reasons why this show reached an entirely new level of quality for television.

Many have failed to focus, however, on the fact that David Chase attempted something with this series that hasn't been attempted by a show before or since: building a theme around his main character in the early episodes, developing it over the course of the series' run and bringing it to its climax in the final episode. Not only did Chase make the attempt, but he realized his goal in grand fashion.

The theme of this series is entirely relatable: does one choose material success and risk losing their family or turn their back on wealth in favor of a fulfilling personal life? This conflict is manifested in the character of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey mob boss, who has a panic attack in the first episode when he realizes he may lose his family. This episode sends him to a psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), and his journey of introspective discovery begins.

Of course, this series is made famous for its portrayal of the Italian mafia and the crime story aspect is incredibly entertaining, leading to most of the series' more compelling situations. This aspect of the series is a mere macguffin, however, providing the audience with high entertainment but only really serving as a device to develop the show's overall theme.

Making Tony Soprano a mob boss allowed Chase the opportunity to intensify the thematic situations at hand: It's one thing to bilk a business rival out of a million dollar deal, and it's another thing entirely to put a bullet in that same rival's head.

The series shows Soprano as a businessman just like any other, but he just happens to work in a vocation lending itself to murder, extortion and other sordid dealings. While the stress and the situations are heightened, we still Soprano purging his soul not unlike the executives an Enron for the chance at material wealth, always jeopardizing his relationship with his family in the process.

Of course, many viewers will not concern themselves with the deeper thematic elements of the show and simply enjoy the thrilling ride through the mob, the intense family drama and the scathing humor that were hallmarks of this series.

But what it all comes down to is that nobody can truly call themselves a TV fan if they've not seen "The Sopranos", and I'm not talking about those watered-down reruns on A&E either.

Remember to check back every week until the strike ends (and maybe beyond) for a fresh recommendation.

Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer


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