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HBO presents
The Sopranos: The Complete Fourth Season (2003)

"I know you better than anyone, Tony. Even your friends. Which is probably why you hate me."
- Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco), to her husband

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: January 07, 2004

Stars: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Drea de Matteo, Aida Turturro, Federico Castelluccio, John Ventimiglia, Vincent Curatola, Steven R. Schirripa, Katherine Narducci, Joe Pantoliano
Other Stars: Peter Riegert, Linda Lavin, Peter Bogdanovich
Director: Allen Coulter, John Patterson, Tim Van Patten, Jack Bender, Henry J. Bronchtein, Daniel Attias, Alan Taylor, James Hayman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 12h: 17m:08s
Release Date: October 28, 2003
UPC: 026359908125
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABA- C+

DVD Review

Things are tough all over, even in the world of organized crime, and nobody knows that better than a friend of ours, Tony Soprano. This fourth season of HBO's signature series finds creator David Chase and his able cast and crew working in top form—The Sopranos has never flagged, but there was a way in which the show went for it all in its first season, perhaps thinking that a series this dark and unconventional had very little chance of being picked up for a sophomore effort. So some of the second season had a sense that the creative staff was reeling a little bit, rightly proud of their success, and in territory that none of them could have possibly anticipated. Nancy Marchand's illness and death must have compounded the creative challenge—so much of that amazing first season is about Tony and his mother, a graduate of the Medea school of child rearing, and with that spine of the show gone, where would Tony's journey take him?

Of course the twin pillars of The Sopranos—of all mob stories, really—have always been business and family, and how the two are conflated and in tension with one another. The first is addressed largely in Tony's relationship with Ralph Cifaretto; and even better, the second focuses on the marriage of Tony and Carmela, which in this season was one of the most candid and brutal ever depicted on television.

Here's an episode guide to Season 4, with random comments and observations on the actors, writers and filmmakers. Warning: these summaries contain many, many spoilers, so you'll blow the narrative surprises for yourself if you read these all the way through. Second warning: lots of stuff in the fourth season pays off storylines that were planted or begun in the previous years. It is truly worth the trip to the video store to catch up on the first three seasons before launching into this one.

Disc One

Episode 1: For All Debts Public and Private

As all Sopranos seasons do, this one begins with Tony in his bathrobe getting the newspaper; the squeeze is on in the tight post-9/11 economic environment, and Carmela is on Tony to do some financial planning, something beyond a brown paper bag filled with cash and wadded in with the birdseed. The seeds are planted for many of the storylines that will carry through the arc of the season—Carmela smiles just a little bit brighter when Furio is at the door, Bobby Bacala (Stephen R. Schirripa) steps to the fore as a made man to watch, and the excellent Peter Riegert is pitch perfect as a corrupt councilman lining his pockets with Tony's money.

A solid beginning, that rates three and a half handguns out of a possible five, on our NRA-approved scale.





Episode 2: No-Show

Family time with the Sopranos, as Meadow considers dropping out of Columbia—Dr. Melfi recommends a psychologist for Tony's daughter, which makes for a fabulous cameo opportunity for Linda Lavin as Meadow's therapist. (There's a new girl in town, and she's looking good!) You truly sense here that Tony, Carmela, Meadow, and A.J. are a family, even when Meadow finally discusses the elephant in the living room: that is, the fact that her dad is not in fact in the waste management business. Christopher sums up Tony as well as anyone: "I owe the guy a lot, but he's a f**kin' jerk sometimes."





Episode 3: Christopher

Michael Imperioli wrote the teleplay for this episode, but its title refers not to the character he plays; it's a Columbus Day special, as the local Native Americans plan a protest against 1492's most famous son of Italy. This does not make friends of ours happy—Silvio: "It's our holiday, and they want to take it away." The grief of Bobby Bacala, who has lost his wife, is genuine and powerful; Schirripa is marketing the goombah thing, but he shows some acting chops here. There's also more than you probably would care to know about Ralphie Cifaretto's ideas of foreplay. He's sleeping with Tony's sister Janice, and encourages her to say things to him like: "Mama's little tramp. Mama's little hoooer!"





DiscTwo

Episode 4: The Weight

When you're a made guy, you can blithely drive the wrong way down a one-way street, but you'd better not insult the wife of another made guy. Ralphie mouths off about Johnny Sack's wife Ginny, who is sporting more than a few extra pounds; for this, Johnny wants Ralphie whacked. The marriage of Johnny and Ginny is especially well portrayed here, and is an obvious contrast to Tony and Carmela's; the goo goo eyes between Mrs. S and Furio could lead somewhere, and that somewhere can't be good. Also on hand: Peter Bogdanovich, well utilized as Melfi's therapist. A solid episode, but occasionally feels like it's laying the groundwork for things to come.





Episode 5: Pie O My

That would be Tony's beloved racehorse, continuing Tony's particular attachment to animals of all sorts. Lots of run-ins with the law here: the FBI is trying to get Adrianna (Drea de Matteo, who plays dumb as well as anyone) to turn state's, and Uncle Junior's trial is heating up—he's got it in for the courtroom artist. Good episode, but a reminder that Dominic Chianese as Junior has sort of been treading water since the end of the first season.





Episode 6: Everybody Hurts

Some ugly business here, especially with Christopher's growing heroin habit, and Tony's discovery that a former girlfriend, Gloria, has committed suicide. Despite all the agita he creates for others, Tony's pain is palpable: "What am I, a toxic person?" Less convincing is an elaborate scheme perpetrated by some snaky French on Artie Bucco, allegedly to turn armagnac into the next Stoli. More Furio and Carmela, too.





Episode 7: Watching Too Much Television

Paulie is out of the joint, but the focus here is on an elaborate scheme perpetrated by the family against HUD—they buy up cheap houses in low-rent districts, get the government to insure the mortgages, then happily default. The African-American characters come a little too close for comfort to stereotyping—think "crack ho"—but the continued corruption of Carmela's cousin Brian, an estate planner who starts on the straight and narrow, is especially worth watching in this one.





Disc Three

Episode 8: Mergers & Acquisitions

Furio returns to Italy to bury his father, and the capos back in the old country give a stern warning: stay away from the boss's wife. Paulie tries to get the other old gals at Green Grove, the nursing home, to play nice with his Ma, but the octogenarians are more difficult than any pack of pre-schoolers. And lots more about Ralph and his odd ways—Tony entertains the idea of stealing away Valentina, Ralph's sexy new girlfriend, and she encourages him with tales of Ralphie's, um, predilections. Tony calls it off, though, announcing his creed: "I don't got morals, but I do got rules."





Episode 9: Whoever Did This

Maybe the best episode of the season. In the first portion, Ralph is rehumanized—his little boy is in the hospital, an accident on Ralph's watch, and the only one that Ralph hates more than himself right now is his ex-wife. Still, he's not above placing phony phone calls to terrorize Paulie's ma; Pantoliano does great work, never playing Ralph as cloying or misunderstood, never apologizing for his nastiness or vanity, but giving him a true three-dimensionality. And then, after somebody torches Pie O My's stable, Tony whacks out Paulie. I've heard some complaints that this season wasn't sufficiently violent; the hand-to-hand combat in Ralph's kitchen should put that notion to rest.





Episode 10: The Strong, Silent Type

Chrissy's heroin use is out of hand, and the family steps in, in one of the funniest and harshest interventions imaginable. The last straw is when a strung-out Christopher sits on and kills Adrianna's dog—De Matteo does stellar work here. Not faring as well is Steve Van Zandt—it's cool that he's in the show, it's cool that he plays with Bruce, but you get the feeling here that stunt casting has its limits. The warm and fuzzy family feeling is extra strong here, such as when Chris sweet talks his mother: "F**k you, you f**kin' hooer."





Disc Four

Episode 11: Calling All Cars

All this therapy, and where has it gotten him? Tony calls a T.O. with Dr. Melfi; as with Chianese, Lorraine Bracco isn't as central to the storylines as she's been previously. Janice has her talons deep into Bobby, and in one of the most horrifying moments in all four years of the series, Bobby and Janice sacramentally eat Karen's last ziti. This episode is sort of the eye of the storm.





Episode 12: Eloise

Epiphanies abound, as Furio sells his house and returns to Italy, breaking Carmela's heart; Bacala puts the screws to a juror on Junior's case, ensuring a mistrial; and Paulie realizes that Johnny Sack has been playing him like a fiddle—Carmine, Johnny's boss, has no clue who Paulie is, despite Johnny's words to the contrary. It's a big-time nightmare, too, when Meadow's parents come to her apartment for dinner; Carmela displays her insecurities (as well as her lack of education), and the Columbia kids get a little snotty, when the conversation turns to homoeroticism in Billy Budd. Things with Paulie get a little cartoony, but the look on Meadow's face when she learns that her father has been in therapy is priceless.





Episode 13: Whitecaps

The longest episode—it's just over an hour and fifteen minutes—also packs the greatest emotional punch of the season. Tony has his eye on a house down the shore, and he envisions it as a Kennedy-style family compound—instead, it becomes the metaphorical couch that Tony has to sleep on when Carmela gives him the heave-ho. Sparking the explosion is a call from Irina, one of Tony's former goomahs—years' worth of resentments and recriminations come to the surface as Tony and Carmela finally have it out. This is some of the best, roughest domestic drama you'll ever see, whether the screen is large or small, and it will leave you hungry for David Chase and company to get back in the game for Season Five.







Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This continues to be one of the most cinematographically accomplished shows on television, but I do think there is a certain bit of pretentiousness in made-for-television drama being shown letterboxed. Anyway, the transfer to DVD is a clean one, but there are occasional resolution problems—Ralphie's checked pants in Episode 6 shine in a way they shouldn't, for instance.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A good, strong 5.1 track is the way to go here; it's full of atmospherics and has excellent balance. The 2.0 is more than adequate as well, and click on over to the French and Spanish tracks for a kick, too.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 96 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Terence Winter (Episode 4); Michael Imperioli (Episode 6); Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess (Episode 9); David Chase (Episode 13)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. series index, recapping Seasons 1-3
  2. Previously On and Next On spots for each episode
  3. roster of 2003 awards and nominations
Extras Review: The extras aren't spectacular, but they do shed some light on the creative process. Four of the episodes feature commentary tracks, by their respective writers. Terence Winter, on Episode 4, fills us in on some production details, and talks about the discordance of this cast of intelligent people playing a bunch of knuckleheads. Michael Imperioli, on Episode 6, is strong discussing the theme—it's about Tony questioning his motives. (He also tips us off that Steve Buscemi, the director of the episode, will be on the other side of the camera in the upcoming fifth season. How come he's gotta be Mr. Pink?) The writing team of Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess provide what may be the best of these commentaries, on Episode 9—this may well be because there are two of them, bouncing ideas and comments off of one another. Joe Pantoliano took the news that his character was being killed off like a man—he said to the writers: "Just make sure that I die good." And the man himself, David Chase, provides the commentary for the season finale—he doesn't have a whole lot to say, but just hearing him free associate and ruminate is worth a listen. He's also his own roughest critic, which may account for the high quality of the show, but also means that he has many sleepless nights.

Each episode has six chapter stops, and includes a Previously On and Next On clip; each disc includes bios for Chase and seventeen cast members. The weblink is to the official HBO site.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

There's no jumping the shark here, as The Sopranos continues to be the best, smartest show on television. The violence is more emotional than physical this year, but the hits just keep on coming.

 


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