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On the Tube: Season 4: Uneasy 'Sopranos'

Friday, September 13, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

With 16 months of anticipation built up for Sunday's fourth season premiere of HBO's "The Sopranos," some viewers are bound to be disappointed.

    More on this story

First three seasons are boxed with behind-the-scenes ba-da-bing


The episode, titled "For All Debts Public and Private," isn't bad, just lackluster. It may also prove somewhat confusing. Viewers have been away from the show for so long that it's not always easy to remember how all the mob bosses relate to one another.

But don't take this as a pan. The second episode of the season cranks the story up with several dramatic scenes. By the fourth episode, any confusion about who's reporting to whom is gone. "The Sopranos" are back and we're just happy to have them.

Sunday's premiere, written by series creator David Chase, sets an oddly ominous tone more befitting a show's final season, which is expected to come a year from now. Or maybe Chase is just laying the groundwork now for the show's eventual end.

Last year's terrorist attacks hang over the new season and that, combined with her husband's line of work, has Carmela (Edie Falco) particularly worried about the future.

"Let me tell you something or you can watch the [expletive] news: Everything comes to an end," she says.

Even as she worries about the future, Carmela may be plotting her own: She suddenly has a crush on Italian import Furio (Federico Castelluccio).

Tony (James Gandolfini) has his own concerns, telling Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) in an unusual moment of candor that "a guy like me" will probably end up dead or in jail unless he takes steps to bond with a member of the younger generation. That's not easy when the youngsters are more likely to talk back or get high than worry about the family business.

Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) remains depressed over last season's murder of Jackie Jr., refusing to get out of bed until mid-afternoon. Christopher (Michael Imperioli) shoots up with heroin and expresses wariness about Adriana's new friend, Danielle (Lola Glaudini), but he doesn't suspect she's an undercover FBI agent.

Next week's episode, written by Chase and Terence Winter, crackles with sparkling dialogue, surprise twists and some dark, dark humor. It moves at a faster pace and pushes the story forward in far more satisfying ways than Sunday's premiere.

The third episode, written by Imperioli, is the show's sometimes heavy-handed response to complaints by Italian-Americans that "The Sopranos" reinforces stereotypes. Mobsters clash with Native Americans who protest a Columbus Day parade, setting off a whole round of accusations with every ethnic group finding something to take offense at. There's also a bedroom scene that's outrageous even by HBO standards.

Episode No. 4, written by Winter, is a mostly comic tale that depicts New York mobster Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) as little better than an elementary school student when he gets wind of an insult directed at his overweight wife.

Last season some viewers complained about the lack of follow-up to particular storylines. In the first four episodes of the new season, some past events are addressed, though not necessarily the way viewers would like.

It's tough to say in the early going whether this season will have an overarching theme. If there's one commonality so far, it's unease about the future. Alienation also grows as Tony comes further disconnected from his daughter, his wife and his brutish colleagues. Even Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) disobeys him in an early episode.

To top it all off, the ducks in Tony's back yard are gone and squirrels are eating their food. There are definitely storm clouds portending future drama on the Sopranos' horizon.

HBO comedies

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Mind of the Married Man" also return with new seasons tomorrow night and they're both true to form.

At 10, "Curb" continues to traffic in the comedy of the uncomfortable as Larry (Larry David) gets into the restaurant business with Ted Danson (playing himself). It's a painfully funny if somewhat predictable show; funnier if you have a masochistic streak.

At 10:30, "Married Man" isn't funny, just rude and unbelievable as Micky (Mike Binder) feels guilt over his encounter with a masseuse last season and tries to make up for it by being a better husband.

'Just Cause'

(9 p.m. Sunday, Pax)

This legal drama is emblematic of the problem facing most Pax shows: A low budget that deprives series of any distinctive visual style. It's especially noticeable in a talky, dialogue-heavy show like "Just Cause."

Newcomer Elizabeth Lackey plays Alex DeMonaco, a single mom who was imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit, but her husband did. He's skipped the country with their daughter, Alex earned a law degree via the Internet while in the joint and now she's out on parole.

Alex badgers attorney Hamilton Whitney (Richard Thomas) into giving her a job at his firm and begins to investigate a case of possible Enron-type fraud while simultaneously searching for her daughter and trying to keep from going back to jail.

Alex is supposed to be a smart woman, but she does some stupid things in the two-hour premiere. She knowingly writes a bad check. To keep an employer from hitting on her, she tells him she killed her husband, which wouldn't seem like a smart way to ensure job security.

Thomas, whose "The Waltons" debuted 30 years ago tomorrow, doesn't have the weighty gravitas his role requires, but he does bring a slyness to the part that's appealing.

Lackey, an Australian, keeps slipping in and out of various accents, which "Just Cause" creator Jacqueline Zambrano ("Under Suspicion") tries to explain with a line of dialogue (she's said to be "an Australian New Yorker by way of East L.A."). Whatever excuses the writers make, Lackey needs a dialect coach, pronto.

"Just Cause" will mix mystery, legal drama and female empowerment on a weekly basis, a not entirely original combination, but that mix will probably appeal to Pax's core viewers.

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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