Sunday, September 15, 2002


'Sopranos' are feeling the economic pinch

        Who knew? Even organized crime families had it tough in the economic downturn after 9-11.

        “So you get a little less allowance than usual. I told you it's temporary,” Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) tells his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco), in the long-awaited season premiere of The Sopranos (9 p.m. today, HBO).

[photo] James Gandolfini and Edie Falco return in new episodes of The Sopranos.
(HBO photo)
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        The episode sets the theme for the fourth season, which executive producer David Chase says will examine Tony and Carmela's marriage — including family finances. With it comes a few cracks in their Don't Ask, Don't Tell arrangement concerning Tony's “waste management” career in New Jersey.

        When Carmela suggests they consult an estate planner, Tony assures her: “You'll be taken care of. You're set in perpetuity. There are overseas accounts so you're not an accomplice. ... I provide for my children.”

        To which Carmela retorts: “Yes, you do. But I don't know how you do it, because you won't tell me.”

Funny subplot

        The cash crunch provides a humorous subplot in this first Sopranos episode in 16 months: Tony smacks a Bada Bing! club bartender for wasting ice (“Conserve!”), hides bundles of cash under a floor tile, complains to his top henchmen (“Why zero growth in this family's receipts?”), then orders them to pick up business (“Crack some heads!”).

        The season premiere, written by Mr. Chase, makes it easy for casual Sopranos viewers to catch up on all the story lines:

        Daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), still in a funk over her boyfriend's death, contemplates dropping out of college.

        Tony's sister Janice (Aida Turturro) gets closer to one of his captains, combustible Ralphie Cifaretto (Joey Pantoliano).

        Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), fretting about his pending federal trial, appoints a new right-hand man, Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri (Steven Schirripa) when the men meet for their “private consultations” in a nearby doctor's office.

        Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) is about to be promoted by Uncle Tony, who may not know enough about his cocaine and heroine use.

        Christopher's fiancee, Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo), continues to hang with her new best friend Danielle (Lola Glaudini), inviting her to Sunday dinner at The Sopranos, unaware that she's an undercover FBI agent.

        Volatile Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico), in a Youngstown jail on a weapons charge, becomes increasingly frustrated at Tony's lack of concern for his situation.

        And Tony learns about a $250 million riverfront hotel about to be built nearby.

        So these things should keep The Sopranos folks busy all year.

        Most of all, The Sopranos premiere lives up to the hype — the special TV Guide Sopranos companion magazine, Entertainment Weekly's complete episode guide, and the third season release on DVD/VHS.

        “What we try to do most is give you a lot of bang for your buck — action, comedy, drama, interesting photography, big production values and really good music,” Mr. Chase says. “We try to pack it with all that stuff, and the first episode has all of that.”

Missing violence

        Everything is there, except a lot of violence. Only one person is killed in the first two shows, when Christopher avenges the murder of his father. In the second show (Sept. 22), construction workers fight at a hotel development site, but nobody dies.

        “This might sound strange to you,” Mr. Chase explains, “but I get bored portraying it (violence). It just gets tiresome. So we're trying to find a different way to do it.”

        Not that The Sopranos fans will see Tony be a cuddly Teddy bear this season.

        “It is a violent line of work that these guys are in,” Mr. Chase says. “There are more homicides in our show than real mob life, but it's drama. Shakespeare had more violence, too. The 15th century probably had fewer kings being murdered than in Shakespeare.”

        In the second episode, Tony the powerful mob boss sounds like every frustrated parent of a teenager while arguing with Meadow about dropping out of college to travel Europe. After Carmela presses her repeatedly to complete her education, Tony blows up and abruptly ends the conversation by bellowing: “You want to go to Europe? Go!”

        That prompts another argument minutes later with his wife in their bedroom: “Thank you for that united front,” Carmela says. “I don't understand you with this flip-flop!”

        Mr. Gandolfini says his character has struck a nerve because viewers can relate to a bumbling fellow who often makes things worse when trying to do the right thing. Watching Tony is akin to “watching a car crash,” he says.

        “Tony's appeal is just like Ralph Kramden's appeal,” says the actor, referring to Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners. “It's like this moron is trying to do the best he can, and he just keeps screwing up.”

        For now, HBO fans will see hothead Tony Soprano screwing up for just one more year.

        Mr. Gandolfini and Ms. Falco, the emotional core of the series, say they'll quit after a fifth season next fall, if Mr. Chase follows through on his threat to leave the show. The producer told TV critics in July that 2003 would be his final season, after which he'd like to continue The Sopranos in feature films, as did creators of The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

        “We've talked about (movies). That could be a possibility,” he says.

        HBO, as series owner, could continue The Sopranos with new actors.

        “I would understand. It's a business. It's doing well for them, and they want it to go on,” Mr. Chase says.

        But would it be a mob hit with a new cast?

        “That might not be good,” he says.

        No kidding. But The Sopranos fans can enjoy the original in perpetuity, on DVD or VHS.




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