James Gandolfini is the finest method actor since Brando, and David Chase is God. These appear to be the main points to take away from the latest release of HBO”s hit mob drama, “The Sopranos.”

Paul Wong
Courtesy of HBO

The extras are pretty classy, but the real reason to purchase this DVD is to own all 13 episodes from the second season. While not quite up to the level established by the first season, episodes 14-26 easily were better than almost anything on television network or cable in 2000. Its sole win (for best actor James Gandolfini) out of 18 Emmy nominations was a sham.

Loyal viewers saw a strong transition from season one”s exposition and developing the Livia-Tony feud toward Tony”s ascension to mob boss and the problems this entailed. In addition, Christopher nearly passed into the great Bada Bing in the sky, while Sal “Big Pussy” Bompensiero and Richie Aprile found themselves on the wrong side of firearms.

After listening to the four director commentaries included, it becomes clear just how much work goes into every episode, from the music (chosen mostly by creator/writer/producer/bergenius Chase) to the brilliant camerawork steadily revealing Big Pussy”s fate. Each director praises the show”s opening sequence and the professionalism each actor (especially Gandolfini) brings to the set. Just when the commentaries start blending together and become banal, they do reveal a few hidden gems. Take, for instance, the commentary to “Funhouse.” Director John Patterson notes that during one scene, hardcore Gandolfini insisted on standing in a bucket of ice water between takes to make himself shiver. In addition, prison vet Tony Sirico (“Paulie Walnuts”) became the most seasick of any actor while filming Pussy”s murder scene in the final episode.

Besides these commentaries and the obligatory cast and crew bios, the collection features two featurettes. The first, “The Real Deal,” explains that “The Sopranos” is authentic, and any word other than genius would fail to suffice for the most important TV show ever. This is a nice propaganda piece for the show, but we”re not Emmy voters, and we don”t need people to tell us the show is well made. It is nice to see Frank DeCaro (“The Daily Show”) speaking seriously along with author Nick Pileggi (“Casino,” “Wiseguys”) as an expert to the show”s significance.

The second featurette is much better, and yet, is bittersweet because it shows how much more could have been done for the collection”s organization and presentation. While Gandolfini and Edie Falco rightfully rave about the script, Chase and Michael Imperioli astutely note how Tony serves as an Everyman, allowing the audience to relate to him. Falco lovingly notes that “I would have played Paulie Walnuts if they would have had me.” Each cast member appears to have an idea of what the show is trying to say. Sadly, not enough time is given to the strong supporting cast (Sirico, Steven van Zandt, Dominic Chianese). Chianese has but 10 seconds and is cut off. That is unacceptable.

When watching, I couldn”t help but think of the commentary on “Fight Club,” with Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter adding the actor”s perspective. Everything seems to revolve around Gandolfini, who is notorious for his preperation (he often makes animal noises to relieve stress just seconds before takes). And the show is Chase”s brainchild. Why no commentary from them? Something more here from the departed cast members or the highly underrated Lorraine Bracco would have been nice. Still, to pass on this set would be a mistake.

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