Whack! Sounds like the Sopranos are back

March 08, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

BASED ON LAST night's HBO season premiere of The Sopranos, here's a tip for any waiters who happen to draw the Tony Soprano party: It's probably not a good idea to complain about the tip.

My God, did you see what they did to that poor guy who grumbled about being stiffed on an $1,100 tab?

First, Christopher fires a brick at the back of his head.

Then, Paulie Walnuts shoots him!

And that's after they enjoyed the meal!

What do these people do to the waiter when the food stinks: Feed him to the sharks? Drop him out of an airplane without a parachute?

Happily, as the fifth season begins, it's business as usual for the country's favorite fictitious crime family, which is to say things are still in total chaos.

Tony's marriage to Carmela is still on the rocks, and now he has the hots again for his shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

Christopher and Paulie aren't getting along, mainly due to the fact that Christopher keeps getting stuck with these heart-stopping restaurant tabs after the wise guys dine on steak and lobster and champagne.

Plus, all these old mobsters are getting out of the slammer and clamoring for a piece of Tony's action, which Tony resents, because he's running a crime family and not the United Way.

Oh, and in the middle of all this, there's a bear the size of a Ford Excursion roaming around Carmela's back yard.

Sure, Tony has moved out of the house, but his concern for the safety of Carmela and son Anthony Jr. is touching - even more so when he stands watch on the back deck with an assault rifle that could take out an entire platoon of Taliban guerrillas, never mind a single woodland creature.

Wow, talk about introducing a few new plot lines. ...

And yet, as a hard-core Sopranos fan, I thought the new season's first episode was strictly ... OK.

In fact, until they whacked the waiter - if I was that guy, I would have said: "You're leaving me 12 bucks on a tab of $1,184? You guys are the greatest!" - things were kind of slow.

Tony's wooing of Dr. Melfi had all the subtlety of a Viking raiding party, and went on too long.

First he sent her roses, then he forced a slobbering kiss on her, then he began stalking her, then he called her a @#$%& when she wouldn't go out with him.

That Tony - still smooth as velvet.

And the whole bear-in-the-back yard thing didn't work for me.

I think I heard somewhere that the bear is supposed to be a metaphor for Tony's life, dark and ominous and careering out of control.

But to me, it was just ... a bear in someone's back yard.

Hey, I've got two raccoons that tip over my garbage cans every week. But I don't think we want to make a miniseries about it.

Still, it's great to have The Sopranos back. It's still the best thing, by far, on TV, network or cable.

Part of what makes it so riveting week after week is the terrific acting.

James Gandolfini is so believable as Tony Soprano, neurotic Jersey mob boss and human powder keg, that they should hand him the Emmy for Best Actor before each season even starts.

Edie Falco is sublime as the long-suffering Carmela Soprano, and so is Lorraine Bracco as repressed psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi - who herself is seeing a shrink. And Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) are brilliant as greedy, scheming sociopaths destined to end up doing hard time in a super-max.

Even Robert Iler is dead-on as Anthony Jr. (A.J.), Tony's and Carmela's sullen, pain-in-the-butt teen-age son, right down to the serial eye-rolling and head-shaking whenever an adult dares to address him.

Then there is the writing.

What Sopranos creator David Chase does better than anyone in TV or film is illustrate how mundane - how incredibly grubby and devoid of glamour - mob life can be.

As author Nicholas Pileggi revealed in the best-selling Wise Guy in the mid-'80s, mob life generally consists of hanging around day after day with a lot of boring fat guys, waiting for the next score. Only occasionally is the boredom relieved by someone pulling out a gun and shooting someone else.

David Chase takes this concept to a whole new level.

With The Sopranos, even a scenario as seemingly innocuous as a waiter muttering about a tip can quickly devolve into a bullet-riddled corpse turning cold in a restaurant parking lot.

It's so nice to have the family back.

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