'Sopranos'  Return's a High Note
  THE SOPRANOS Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO

 Eleven long months since the last original "Sopranos" episode,
 and what's the first new thing we get?

 A fat guy in his underwear.

 Hello, Tony.

 HBO's gleaming, seedy New Jersey mob-family drama returns for a third
 season Sunday night with its creative juices at full potency. The first of two
 episodes airing back-to-back this weekend tracks continuing efforts by
 the FBI to build an organized-crime case against Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

 The second examines the immediate aftermath of the death of Tony's manipulative
 and quite possibly psychotic mother, Livia (the late Nancy Marchand).

 Both episodes, written by series creator/executive producer David Chase,
 offer the thrilling combination of provocative drama, bawdy comedy and
 ingenious production that has become the show's signature feature.

Among the highlights:

A comparative analysis of men's and women's rest rooms, courtesy of Tony Sirico's Paulie Galtieri.

ha ha

A drug-addled discourse on the nature of identity by Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).

A declaration of interior-decorating principle by Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco).

Unprecedented vilification of Francis Scott Key, who wrote our national anthem, and poet Robert Frost.

A musical sequence co-mingling The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and
Henry Mancini's theme song for the TV series "Peter Gunn."

And a show-stopping, jaw-dropping memorial service for Livia in the "great room" of the Sopranos' home.

Beyond such terrific touches and basic plot points, Sunday's two shows (and two subsequent episodes
also made available for screening) underscore the series' mastery of the art of dramatic alchemy.

The show's creative team of writers, producers, directors, actors and production crew takes the base elements
of crime stories violence, money, power, dishonesty, ignorance and spins them into riveting explorations
of the internal human struggle between good and evil.

Remarkably, "The Sopranos" exists on both the profane and the profound levels simultaneously.
It is, of course, an immensely entertaining mob drama peopled by fascinating and flawed characters.
The relationships of Tony, his wife, their children Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler)
and Tony's sister Janice (Aida Turturro) feel genuine, albeit warped by the realities of the Soprano crime family.

Likewise, the Soprano-family criminal operations overseen by Tony, Paulie, Christopher and Silvio Dante
(Steven Van Zandt) resonate with the true rhythms of work. Colleagues joke sometimes slyly sometimes
outrageously at each other's expense. Familiarity and boredom allow them to shrug off the otherwise arresting
tableaux at their workplace, the Bada Bing strip club. Yet the potential for sudden violence is ever-present.

At the same time, Tony's continuing panic-attack blackouts, his strained therapy sessions with Dr. Jennifer Melfi
(Lorraine Bracco) and his increasing sensitivity to the destructive dimensions of his life's work bear witness to
a man wrestling with inner demons, with an emotionally ravaged childhood and with the blatant hypocrisy of
his supposed devotion to such noble qualities as honor, loyalty and respect.

"The Sopranos" is back, and I couldn't be more excited.

Original Publication Date: 3/2/01

Are you excited?

Sunday, they return with a two-hour show.

I won't spoil anything if you read this, (avoid the review in TV Guide.)
That review was written by Matt Roush, who I think is the best in the business.

He says, about the first few hours of this season's Sopranos episodes:

...eleven months have passed since the last episode and our desire for fresh
glimpses into this bitterly entangled Jersey mob family has only intensified.

Series creator david Chase, who wrote these episodes, is a master craftsman.
He takes his time and some narrative risks - thereby challenging our own
TV-bred anticipation of instant payoffs.

Unlike anything else on TV, The Sopranos pays off with psychologically rich,
daringly adult, tantalizing storytelling. What a treat to have it back.

ha ha

I'm so there,

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