The Sopranos: Season Four

There is no doubt that Jersey gangster chronicle The Sopranos is one of the best shows on television. It's intense, serious storytelling with gripping characters both major and minor, stellar acting, it's well-written and occasionally visionary. That said, the fourth season of the short-run HBO series is a meandering disappointment. For three seasons, patriarch Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) has served three important women: his wife (Edie Falco), his therapist (Lorraine Bracco) and his mother (Nancy Marchand). Well, his mother is dead, his psychological crises have been averted, and his wife has one suspicious eye on the door, where her crush Furio (Federico Castelluccio) might walk in. Since chief internal rival Uncle Junior is on trial, tension surrounding Tony has dissipated, turning attention to bit players like neurotic bachelor Paulie's mom, twisted sister Janice's romantic disasters, and negotiating the false mazes of honour constructed by these immoral men. The Sopranos is never unwatchable — far too much talent gathers here for that — but given its 13 episode season and interminable wait for a new instalment, it's the most fun television can offer you that comes in the heartbreaking form of unfulfilled expectation. The pricey box sets continue to disappoint in terms of extras; by now, even the cheap featurettes have been abandoned. Only a handful of episode commentaries are offered, and they range from mildly distracting (actor/writer Michael Imperioli offers one of the best) to downright tepid and bland, especially from series Don David Chase. Plus: season overview, DVD-Rom. (HBO/Warner)