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By Michael Dequina | July 9, 1999

Being one of the unfortunate few deprived of cable television, I had not been able to see for myself the award-winning tube sensation that is “The Sopranos.” But thanks to HBO’s beautiful and comprehensive box set of the celebrated mafia drama’s debut season, people like myself have an opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. These hype-justifying thirteen episodes, providing an engrossing and often wickedly funny introduction to the professional and domestic troubles of mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), are spread across four discs and featured for the first time in widescreen, which is apparently its original format (curious, considering this is a made-for-small-screen project).
While just having all these episodes in a pristine digital form would have been enough for the series’ large following to pick up a box, HBO did put in a fair amount of effort into the presentation. The discs feature nice fully animated and scored menus reflecting the energy of the series; there are also fairly detailed episode synopses and all the “previously on…” and “next on…” recaps and previews. However, supplementary material is a bit wanting. The running commentary on the pilot by series creator David Chase and second season guest star Peter Bogdanovich is a glazed-over letdown; better, however, is the one-hour-plus sit-down interview/discussion between the two. Two behind-the-scenes featurettes are included along with this lengthy talk on disc 4, but these segments are obviously culled from the series’ electronic press kit–which should give an indication as to how probing they aren’t.
But it’s hard to argue with a set whose programming is of such high quality, not to mention one featuring such gorgeous packaging. The discs are housed in gatefold packaging featuring slick artwork; this piece is, in turn, housed in a larger, sturdier box, complete with a ribbon for easy pull-out access. It’s a fittingly classy presentation for one very polished show.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; Spanish mono; English closed captioning.

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