Television Revision: The Sopranos – Season 3

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By Andrew Williams
April 23, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a spot opens up in Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) organisation, Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) is there to fill it. Meanwhile, Tony’s daughter Meadow (Jamie Lynn-Sigler) heads off to college; a development that brings with it a new slate of problems.

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Happy days? In some respects, Season Three is The Sopranos on autopilot. The focus and narrative drive that characterised the two seasons prior is less prominent, and creator David Chase seems content to just tell a series of short stories about these characters we’ve become so familiar with (perhaps the result of Nancy Marchand‘s death between seasons; her Livia Soprano was to be a key player in a new plotline). In a vehicle as superbly crafted as this one, autopilot is more than fine, but it leads to a slight sense of frustration; a sense that we could be getting somewhere great rather than just enjoying the ride. However, just as we enter the home stretch and the cries of ‘Are we there yet?’ grow slightly louder, Chase revs his beautiful machine into high gear and The Sopranos roars into life, producing a couple of episodes that register among the best of the entire run.

For every misstep or slow moment, there’s a gem of an episode like Employee of the Month; a microcosm of all the things The Sopranos does well. It’s a superbly directed parable that showcases one of the outstanding supporting castmembers – in this case, Lorraine Bracco – while having little to no effect on the plot of the series overall.

The final frontier: Though Season Three might feel a bit repetitive to begin with, it’s a journey worth repeating, and once it presses down on the accelerator, you’ll never look back.

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Top three episodes: Employee of the Month aside, Season Three finishes with a triumvirate of episodes that will make you sit up and take notice (in the very unlikely scenario you were ever going to fall asleep). 11) Pine Barrens is a genius, almost standalone episode reminiscent of the Coen brothers at their finest. 12) Amour Fou is full of shocking moments and outstanding acting. 13) Army of One cleverly shifts focus to a character firmly in the background over the course of the season and makes us realise that it was they who had the most at stake all along.

Worst episode: 5) Another Toothpick. Taken on its own merit, this isn’t a bad or even poor episode, but it’s symptomatic of that aforementioned wheel-spinning.

Season MVP: I can’t recall another show so dominated by the charismatic force of its lead. Without the right actor in the part, Tony Soprano could have so easily become a caricature; an affectation-heavy amalgam of every other movie mobster. James Gandolfini makes Tony Soprano a fully realised person, despicable and relatable in equal measure.

4.5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The Sopranos – Season 1

Television Revision: The Sopranos – Season 2

The Sopranos is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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