The second series of The Sopranos
, David Chase's ultra-cool and ultra-modern take on New Jersey gangster life, matches the brilliance of the first, although it's marginally less violent, with more emphasis given to the stories and obsessions of supporting characters. Sadly, the programme makers were forced to throttle back on the appalling struggle between gang boss Tony Soprano and his Gorgon-like Mother Livia, the very stuff of Greek theatre, following actress Nancy Marchand's unsuccessful battle against cancer. Taking up her slack, however, is Tony's big sister Janice, a New Age victim and arrant schemer and sponger, who takes up with the twitchy, Scarface-wannabe Richie Aprile, brother of former boss Jackie, out of prison and a minor pain in Tony's ass. Other running sub-plots include soldier Chris (Michael Imperioli) hapless efforts to sell his real-life Mafia story to Hollywood, the return and treachery of Big Pussy and Tony's wife Carmela's ruthlessness in placing daughter Meadow in the right college. Even with the action so dispersed, however, James Gandofini is still toweringly dominant as Tony. The genius of his performance, and of the programme makers, is that, despite Tony being a whoring, unscrupulous, sexist boor, a crime boss and a murderer, we somehow end up feeling and rooting for him, because he's also a family man with a bratty brood to feed, who's getting his balls busted on all sides, to say nothing of keeping the Government off his back. He's the kind of crime boss we'd like to feel we would be. Tony's decent Italian-American therapist Dr Melfi's (Loraine Bracco) perverse attraction with her gangster-patient reflects our own and, in her case, causes her to lose her first series cool and turn to drink this time around. Effortlessly multi-dimensional, funny and frightening, devoid of the sentimentality that afflicts even great American TV like The West Wing
, The Sopranos
is boss of bosses in its televisual era. --David Stubbs
Series 2, Episodes 7 and 8.
DVD Special Features:
Nancy Merchand tribute
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English for the hearing impaired.