New 'Sopranos' Needs More Juice

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Entering its third season, Home Box Office's The Sopranos
continues to be well acted, but the plot has slowed to a glacial pace.

Based on preview tapes of this season's first three episodes, plus episode six, the drama series seem to focus too much on Tony's family matters and not enough on his mob family.

Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) remains the anchor, but so far, his kids, especially Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), get more airtime than Carmela (Edie Falco) and members of Tony's inner circle.

We don't want the show to be another Godfather
-but we don't want another Wonder Years,either.

Although his sessions with shrink Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) are thankfully few and far between, much time is spent uncovering a big reason behind Tony's panic attacks and his dealings with daughter Meadow. Meadow gives Tony agita by hooking up with a black Columbia University classmate, sparking Tony to spew some Archie Bunker-like racial epithets.

Several new characters show up, most notably Ralph Cifaretto. But it will be a while before we know which are key to the overall story thread.

Ralph, played by Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix, The Fugitive) is a hot-tempered gangster, not unlike the late Richie Aprile. He gets on everyone's nerves, not least because all have to cover for him after he beats his pregnant girlfriend Tracee, a Bada Bing dancer, to death outside the club.

The second episode is devoted to the death and funeral of Livia (Nancy Marchand), for which Janice returns-and revives old tensions. There are hints she's more interested in something hidden in Livia's house.

Tony's longstanding wiseguys have little to do, except for scenes in which Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) confronts Ralph for keeping Tracee away from his club for days and when Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) rides herd on Christopher (Michael Imperioli).

A third of the way into the season, Furio (Federico Castelluccio) and even Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) are little more than extras. Creator David Chase and the writers, including Todd Kessler and Robin Green, seem to be cramming in too many characters in hopes of building suspense.

The Sopranos
bows March 4 on HBO with two back-to-back episodes, starting at 9 p.m.; the other previewed episodes are due March 11 and April 1.

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