The hit HBO series The Sopranos finally returns to TV with all new episodes this month. But after two years of anticipation, America's favorite crime family has become America's favorite soap opera.When the fourth season of The Sopranos ended on December 8, 2002, fans of the show were left with cliffhangers: Adriana (Drea De Matteo) was ratting on Christopher (Michael Imperioli) to the Feds, Paulie (Tony Sirico) was telling family secrets to Johnny Sack's (Vincent Curatola) New York family, people were beginning to wonder where Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano) was, and Carmella (Edie Falco) kicked Tony (James Gandolfini) out of the house.

Fans patiently waited for the resolution of these plotlines, which usually takes The Sopranos no more than one or two episodes. Now, two episodes into the fifth season, the questions remain. Ralphie's name is all but forgotten. Paulie's indiscretions have been completely ignored. Adrianna comes close to revealing her secret in the second episode of the season ("Rat Pack"), but like most drawn-out soap operas, it stops short of the goal. As for Tony's eviction, well, he's still evicted despite his proclamation that he's "Old School," and he "doesn't believe in this separation shit."

Okay, fine. The resolution of plotlines has never been a driving force behind The Sopranos, so the fact that some of the cliffhangers from the fourth season are ignored is forgivable. But other elements that in the past have made the show great are still missing from the fifth season. The juxtaposition between Tony's two families and the mobster elements therein no longer create the drama. Instead, we are given stories fit for a timeslot between Days of Our Lives and Passions.

Rather than watching money-running and mob-hits, the viewer watches Tony incessantly hitting on Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), which was always amusing while he was her patient. But now that therapy is no longer in session, it's tired. We also have the introduction of Steve Buscemi as Tony's cousin, Tony. All of the fans eagerly awaiting his badass character attributes can relax since his character wants nothing more than to enter the illicit world of massage therapy. Perhaps they used the term "Big Pussy" too early in the series.

Finally, we can rest uncomfortably knowing that whenever audiences are graced with the presence of Bobby Bacala (Steve Schirripa) -- an extremely solid character in the past -- it will be overshadowed by Tony's loathsome sister Janice (Aida Turturro), who was obviously meant to replace Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) as the show's most obnoxious character.

Executive Producer David Chase has traded in the guns and brass knuckles for wedding rings and champagne. If this theme predominates for the rest of the season, the fans could probably have waited a lot longer to see it. The next few episodes need to return to the darkness that made the show interesting in the first place. Otherwise, Tony Soprano will find himself on the next season of Survivor.


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