Since "The Sopranos" premiered on HBO in 1999, much has changed for the network and the show. HBO, due in large part to programs such as "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City," is now the de facto home of television's most highly regarded original series. Meanwhile, "The Sopranos" -- despite an incredibly slow production schedule and problems with the actors, including contract disputes -- finds a way to stay relevant with each new season.
With a sixth season not expected to air until 2006, fans can at least look forward to the DVD release of Season 5 on Tuesday.
This DVD sees everyone's favorite family members return (unless Ralph was your favorite -- he's still dead, sorry). And while the mob game is the same, things are afoot in Tony Soprano's (James Gandolfini, facing right) other family life. While elated that a favorite cousin, Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi, facing left) is being released from jail, Tony Soprano is tormented by his estrangement from his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco), who is terrified of a wild bear that occasionally wanders through the neighborhood.
This season's great storylines play out like a 13-episode Shakespearean tragedy with New Jersey accents. It's hard to watch Blundetto's attempts to hold legitimate employment and reconnect with his family while the power and money of his old life are personified in his best friend and cousin, Tony Soprano. And it's obvious immediately that Adriana's (Drea de Matteo) FBI conversations are going to lead someone to a nasty fall.
On DVD, "The Sopranos: The Complete Fifth Season" sticks with the format HBO established with the first four. An attractive box, adorned with a grim image of the family standing above its buried casualties, holds the season's four discs in a photo-plastered fold-out sleeve.
The set is short on bonus features, though it does include commentaries with directors and various cast members on five episodes, including the pivotal 12th episode, "Long Term Parking."
With fresh faces, cast shake-ups and sporadic but shocking violence, series creator David Chase has managed to keep his aging crime drama fresh. Rather than being the stagnant dinosaur some critics claim, "The Sopranos" is a lot more like Season 5's vagrant bear: It may be a long time between lumbering visits, but it's a beast that leaves a lasting impression.
The Sopranos: The Complete Fifth Season
Warner Home Video; DVD $99.90; not rated; available Tuesday
New on DVD:
Rescue Me -- The Complete First Season (Columbia Tristar: three-disc DVD $49.95; not rated; available Tuesday) Denis Leary teams up again with Emmy Award-winning writer-producer Peter Tolan -- the two were responsible for the short-lived but highly regarded ABC cop drama "The Job" -- in this FX television drama of life in a New York fire station. Leary plays Tommy Gavin, a rough New York firefighter undergoing relationship troubles while haunted by memories of comrades lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Beyond the Sea (Lions Gate Home Entertainment: DVD $27.90; rated PG-13; available Tuesday) Kevin Spacey took the mike in this biopic about popular nightclub crooner Bobby Darin. The DVD includes director commentary, a making-of featurette and additional musical performances by Spacey.