TV: Boxing Clever – The Sopranos

Believe the hype. The Sopranos is second to none as far as DVD boxsets are concerned, writes Diarmuid Carter There is no point in me telling you that The Sopranos is good. If you haven’t already seen it, then you should at least know. Ranked as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Sopranos frequently interchanges between the first and second spot with The Wire.Described by The New York Times as possibly “the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter century”, thinking The Sopranos is very good is now just common sense. A bit like believing that education is important or that racial discrimination is bad.The Sopranos is a show about gangsters, meaning that it delivers the sex, violence and ‘gang-talk’ that audiences have always lapped up. Yet The Sopranos does not only titillate us with beatings and blow jobs, it also explores issues like modern-day apathy, personal guilt and identity in crisis.It is already a classic story and perhaps television’s greatest artistic achievement. Ironic then that the small screen, with all its scheduling limitations, is really not the best place to enjoy such an intricately constructed world.Take the fifth episode of the first season for example. Tony Soprano takes his daughter to Maine to view colleges. On the way, he spies what he believes to be an informer on the Witness Protection Program, follows him and strangles him to death with a piece of electrical wire.It’s an exciting episode, but as well as watching Tony brutally garrotte a “dirty rat fuck”, we also see him trying to establish an honest relationship with his teenage daughter despite the nature of his ‘work’.We see him ponder the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote: “No man... can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be true.” We hear his wife, Carmella, sum up a common concern of modern-day western society when she confesses: “I have forsaken what is right for what is easy.”All this occurs in just one episode. Altogether The Sopranos comprises 86 episodes which generally fall between 50 and 55 minutes in length. Imagine if The Sopranos could only be watched on television once a week. How easy would it be to miss this one episode because you were talking rubbish in a pub somewhere? Yet if you did miss it, you’d be missing out on themes crucial to the rest of the saga, and missing out on so much of what it has to offer.The Sopranos is a genuine artistic achievement, and it demands to be watched using modern equipment. It is a story so complex, rich and detailed that it needs to be watched from the beginning through to the end with no interruptions, and may often require re-watching. It is a phenomenon of the boxset age.