- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

‘Sopranos’ sings again

It seems like just yesterday that HBO’s “The Sopranos” wrapped its contentious fourth season.

By “yesterday,” we mean 15 months ago. Time means nothing to “Sopranos” creator David Chase, who won’t rush new episodes our way no matter how much we beg and plead.

The show’s notoriously slow production schedule may drive fans to distraction, but they’ll be comforted to know that their favorite mob hit remains as compulsively watchable as ever, based on the first four episodes.

The first new installment airs at 9 p.m. Sunday.

The series introduces several new characters — with a plot wrinkle. Prison sentences have expired and suddenly several key mobsters are back on the streets. Robert Loggia and Steve Buscemi join the Sopranos’ ranks, but the former really juices the proceedings. The old school ex-boss clashes with Tony (James Gandolfini) from the get-go, forcing the hirsute anti-hero to reconsider his people management skills.

Feech La Manna (Mr. Loggia) seems too violent even for “The Sopranos,” but the cagey character actor makes the most of his role.

Tony and Carmela’s recent separation plays a pivotal role in the new episodes, with plenty of strife surrounding son A.J.’s erratic behavior.

Tony also pursues a surprising romantic partner, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) who, while a bit more intrigued than she’d care to admit, doesn’t know the safest way to reject his brutish advances.

Meanwhile, Carmela (Edie Falco, as fierce as ever) is trying to expand her cultural tastes while considering a romance with A.J.’s counselor.

The show’s trademark black humor abounds in the first few installments. When Mr. Buscemi’s character tries to go straight after his prison release, he turns to a career as a massage therapist and promptly uses Tony’s hoods as test dummies.

Hallmark’s ‘Home’

Don’t care for the violent, scheming Italian Americans portrayed on “The Sopranos”? The Hallmark Channel has an offer you can’t refuse.

“A Place Called Home,” starring Ann-Margret, tells the story of a reclusive widow who takes in a drifter and his young daughter.

The original movie premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, with an encore showing at 11 p.m.

The film, shot on location in Lake Tahoe, Calif., co-stars Shailene Woodley (“The O.C.”), Hunter Tylo (“The Bold and the Beautiful”) and Matthew Settle (“Band of Brothers”).

Decline this ‘Help’

The irreverent mind behind “Married … With Children” strikes again tonight with “The Help,” a new sitcom for the WB promising to reunite us with several fading stars.

The actors should have opted for oblivion.

Mindy Cohn (“The Facts of Life”), David Faustino (“Married … With Children”) and Antonio Sabato Jr. (“Melrose Place”) star in this at once ugly and unfunny tale of culture clashes between a filthy rich family and its scheming domestic staff.

“The Help” bows at 9:30 p.m. tonight.

Deaniacs remember

CNN presents a new special this weekend recalling the improbable rise and astoundingly quick descent of the Dean for President campaign.

“True Believers: Life Inside the Dean Campaign,” airs at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday.

“The program’s cameras follow the men and women who built one of the greatest insurgent campaigns of all time, then watched it collapse in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire,” says Sid Bedingfield, senior vice president of CNN Productions in a statement.

Updike makes ‘History’

Celebrated novelist John Updike reflects on a lifetime of writing as part of a new series debuting this weekend on the History Channel.

“Making History With Roger Mudd,” airing at 6 p.m. tomorrow, is a new quarterly series in which Mr. Mudd interviews key Americans in the fields of literature, science, business and art. These visionaries, the channel assures, produce the kind of work that will be remembered in 100 years as “important and transforming.”

The conversation ranges from Mr. Updike’s boyhood home of Shillington, Pa., to his place among the country’s literary greats.

Says Mr. Updike of his life as a writer: “It’s a matter of patience. Sitting ability, really. You do it out of a kind of love and a wish to perpetuate yourself.”

Firth, Jones go ‘Live

“Saturday Night Live” gets a double dose of sophistication tomorrow when Colin Firth and Norah Jones drop by the satirical mainstay. Mr. Firth, the co-star of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and its upcoming sequel, most recently starred as Vermeer in “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Miss Jones’ latest album, “Feels Like Home,” is racking up the kind of sales Britney Spears can only dream of. The show marks Miss Jones’ second appearance on the program.

“Saturday Night Live” airs at 11:30 Saturday nights on NBC.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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