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
Closing seven episodes from the second series of the Mafia family saga. In 'D-Girl', Christopher decides he would like to become a Hollywood player, while Pussy is threatened with prison unless he goes into Tony's house wearing a wire. 'Full Leather Jacket' sees Richie attempting to make peace with Tony, while Carmela turns to her neighbour for advice about Meadow's prospects at college. In 'From Where to Eternity', Christopher has an out-of-body experience during surgery, while Dr Melfi turns to her own psuchiatrist for help over her substance abuse. 'Bust-Out' sees Richie approaching Junior regarding a possible alliance, and Tony decides to drive David Scatino out of business just as Carmela hired Scatino's brother-in-law to decorate their living room.In 'House Arrest', Tony is advised by his lawyer to spend more time on his legitimate business ventures. 'The Knight in White Satin Armour' sees Tony preparing to sever all ties with an out of control Richie. Finally, in 'Funhouse', a doubt-ridden Tony decides to find out where he really stands with Pussy once and for all.