“What two businesses have traditionally been recession-proof since time immemorial?” Tony Soprano once asked, to which lieutenant Silvio Dante deadpanned, “Certain aspects of show business and our thing.” With this limited-edition 33-disc doorstop, priced at a hefty $399 and arriving just 17 months after David Chase’s lionized gangster saga quick-cut to black, HBO is surely hoping that “Sopranos” merchandising is another of those evergreen commercial ventures.The discs — along with an episode guide, reprints of press plaudits and cast info — are sleeved inside a chunky, wedding album-like binder. That, in turn, is encased in a flannel sleeve that fits snugly inside an auster black linen box. Just opening the package feels like the enacting of a dark sacramental ritual — sumptuous and vaguely transgressive. With “The Sopranos” being probably the most adored and deconstructed show in television history, with its 86 installments having been issued on season-specific DVD sets, and with devotees (the most likely customers for this set) already knowing the skein backward and forward, the episodes pretty much speak for themselves. And so, as usual with such digital retrospectives, it’s all about the extras, which are fairly generous. Those include all three of the show’s soundtrack releases, here condensed on two CDs; a grab bag of deleted scenes stretching back to season one; and “Sopranos” parodies as executed by “Saturday Night Live,” “MadTV” and, in what amounts to the ultimate zeitgeist imprimatur, “The Simpsons.” More interesting are a two-part interview with creator David Chase by outspoken fan Alec Baldwin; two “Suppers With The Sopranos,” freewheeling gabfests featuring Chase and a gaggle of the show’s actors, directors, and writers; and a bizarre 2007 Paley Center seminar entitled “Whacked Sopranos” in which Chase and exec producer Terence Winter chat with actors Steve Buscemi, Drea DeMateo, Annabella Sciorra, Vincent Pastore and David Proval, all of whose alter egos bit the dust. Given all that, it seems almost ungrateful to gripe, but there’s still the nagging sense that the admittedly gorgeous spread is a couple of mushrooms short of an antipasti. For one thing, where’s the gag reel? With a cast this familially comfortable with each other, there had to be tons of off-the-cuff hilarity and on-set screwups recorded over the years. More egregiously: Where’s James Gandolfini? Aside from the aforementioned deleted scenes, he appears in none of the extras. “The Sopranos” is that rare animal — a bonafide ensemble yet one with an undeniable lead character. To watch the bonus disks, you’d think its capo di tutti capo was a day player. Although Gandolfini is notorious for his aversion to promotion and the press, as well as admirably eager to sacrifice the spotlight for his co-stars, fans deserved to see the man behind the most riveting pop-culture persona in recent history wax nostalgic about what was surely a fascinating ride. We demand a sitdown.
$399; Release date: Nov. 11, 2008
Cast: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt