Sopranos Hits Another High Note

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Entering its second season, Home Box Office's The
Sopranos
remains a mob hit.

Based on the first three episodes of its new season, David
Chase -- co-executive producer with Brad Grey and creator of the show that redefined
"family values" -- continues to do a masterful job in developing characters that
are well above average for television drama series.

The Sopranos' success is all the more remarkable since
its characters, like those on HBO's Oz, are far from likable.

A couple of cast additions look especially promising --
Tony's feisty sister, Janice (Aida Turturro), as of Jan. 16; and a new mob rival, Richie
Aprile (David Proval), Jan. 30.

After a falling out with therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine
Bracco) last season, James Gandolfini's Prozac-popping mob boss, Tony Soprano, appears
certain to return for more sessions. That's unfortunate, since those often-lifeless
dialogues had slowed down the series. (There's also a hint of romance ahead.)

Like Italians cooking up pasta sauce, the producers and
writers continue with some tasty plot lines. Will "Uncle Junior" (Dominic
Chianese) make another move against Tony, this time aided by violent newcomer Aprile?

Is Tony's mother, Livia (Nancy Marchand), more shrewd than
senile, and will she ally with Janice? Or will Janice link with Richie?

On the other hand, The Sopranos' story lines with
Tony's nephew, Christopher (Michael Imperioli), and his girlfriend, Adriana, as well as
those with Tony's bratty offspring, haven't proven all that zesty so far. But since
Adriana is Richie's niece -- a nice soap-opera touch -- there may well be a
Christopher/Aprile confrontation brewing.

There are rumors of celebrity cameos ahead by Frank Sinatra
Jr. and others, which could turn out to be a mistake. What next: Hugh Grant reprising
"Mickey Blue Eyes?"

Chase continues to apply nice touches involving humor and
music. The mobsters, especially Silvio (Stevie Van Zandt), still quote famous lines from The
Godfather
. There's even a funny reference to Analyze This, when a male
therapist refuses to take Tony as a patient.

During the season opener's seven-minute intro, Chase makes
good use of Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year." Later, Paul Simon's
"Mother & Child Reunion" meshes with Janice's wooing of Livia.

The Sopranos' second season starts Jan. 16 at 9 p.m. on
HBO. The other episodes previewed will run Jan. 23 and 30.

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