I have a ritual when it comes to watching The Sopranos. Before the debut of each season, I rewatch every prior season on DVD so that I'm immersed in all the nuances that remind me why it's one of the best TV shows ever. (As director Peter Bogdanovich puts it during his commentary for a Season 5 episode, it's "more like life as opposed to a show.") I'm an extras and commentaries junkie, too, so this can take a while, but it's worth it when it comes to enjoying a show as layered and textured as this one.
I did something different in anticipation for Season 6, however. Sure, I bought the Season 5 DVD box set upon its release in June 2005. But I didn't watch it right away like I'd normally do. Instead, I bit the bullet and kept it on the shelf and unopened until last week. That's right: Since Season 5 first aired, I watched no repeats, dialed up no OnDemand offerings, nothing. Like a lotta folks, I was PO'ed that it was taking forever for Season 6 to arrive, but I resigned myself (albeit somewhat begrudgingly) to wait until its debut date was absolutely confirmed to institute my ritual's timetable. I trust enough in creator David Chase's vision to know it would be worth the wait. (And don't worry - I won't spoil a thing for those of you who TiVo'ed it, taped it, will watch later via OnDemand, will catch the re-airs later in the week, etc., etc.)
I was one of those who thought Seasons 3 and 4 were better than the consensus did, but for some reason, Season 5 let me down here and there along the way. After rewatching it on DVD over the course of the last 10 days, I think I've got my finger on the main reason why: unrealistically high expectations. Because The Sopranos sets the bar so high for itself (and every other show out there, for that matter), it's almost impossible for it to always measure up with what you expect out of it. I suppose part of my reaction stemmed from the fact that I instinctively knew the moment that Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) was released from prison to start the season that his cousin, Tony Soprano (the ever-engaging and oft-intimidating James Gandolfini), would be the one to take him out. Even though his blood ran deeper than other Tony S "family" rub-outs (i.e., Ralphie), you just knew it was coming. Eventually. And, I'm sorry, but I don't care if Tony wasn't named in Johnny Sack's indictment (Episode 13) - I don't buy it for a second that he was able to elude the FBI when they swooped in on Johnny's house en masse. (I mean, they even hogtied the hobbled gardener, for crying out loud.) But, okay, they needed the symbolism of having Tony "the bear" lumber through his own backyard to wrap up the season.
But those are just quibbles. Watched as a whole, Season 5 unfolds in a masterful arc, with everything ultimately serving the overall unfolding saga de Soprano. And, hey, c'mon, fellow a/v-ophiles - how about Carmela's film club gathering in the media room in Episode 2 ("Rat Pack") to watch "Citizen Kane"? Naturally, Tony later irritates Carm (Edie Falco) by reclaiming some of the components from the system. One thing I can tell you: I'd take a contract out on whoever dared to mess with my 5.1 setup.
On to Season 5's five commentaries. Director Rodrigo Garcia dissects Episode 4, "All Happy Families...", quite well. His analysis and insight into the characters is spot-on, and it really informs how he showcases them visually. One telling remark comes when Garcia describes Gandolfini's physicality in certain scenes and decides, "Tony is unafraid of life." (Ah, but is he unafraid of death? Hmm.)
One of the best commentators out there is the aforementioned Peter Bogdanovich, who tackles Episode 6, "Sentimental Education." The director explains how he set up a lot of his shots and why - and discusses them at just the right time to correspond with the image onscreen. A number of commentators get stuck a few beats or scenes behind the onscreen action - and often because it's the first time they're watching or rewatching an episode, so they're reacting to what they see after the fact rather than anticipating and guiding you through the action. Not Bogdanovich. Even something as seemingly straightforward as a talking-head scene between Carm and the guidance counselor she sleeps with (David Straithairn) has added resonance after he walks you through it - as it happens. "The best stuff is simple," Bogdanovich observes, simply. True. And you gotta love his homage to Alfred Hitchcock when he discusses montages as being "pure cinema" - in Hitch's voice.
My only nit to pick here: Sometimes Bogdanovich is a bit too soft spoken, so I found myself fiddling with the volume more often than I would've liked.