LIKE MILLIONS of Americans, I'm pumped for the new season. Who wouldn't be? The scouting report promises another year of murder and betrayal, of greed and retribution, of lust and larceny, and of course all this makes me warm and tingly inside.
That's right, The Sopranos, HBO's mega-hit series about the Jersey wise-guy life, returns Sunday after a 16-month hiatus, and if that isn't a reason to grab the remote and tear open the Doritos, I don't know what is.
There's a school of thought that says what makes The Sopranos so compelling is that it deals with the ups and downs of ordinary life, portraying Tony Soprano as a sort of suburban Everyman, minus the Craftsman riding mower.
C'mon, don't all of us know someone who wears a diamond pinkie ring, lives in a huge house right out of Better Cosa Nostra Homes and Gardens, works out of a strip joint, survived a hit subtly orchestrated by his mother, had his best friend whacked, OK'd the murder of his daughter's ex-boyfriend and has FBI agents in dark sedans parked at the bottom of his driveway?
Hmmm, maybe not.
Actually, I've always thought that what makes The Sopranos so riveting is that they're not ordinary at all.
No, what they are is larger than life, so breathtakingly violent, dysfunctional and hedonistic as to make the Vito Corleone family look like the Von Trapps.
Tony Soprano as the guy next door?
With his murderous rages, vicious, sociopath friends and amoral gangster lifestyle, Tony's the guy next door only if you live next door to Attica.
Look, this is a guy who garroted a mob stool pigeon on a college-visiting trip to New England with his daughter. ("Sweetie, Daddy's a little busy now. Can we talk about Bowdoin after I whack this rat?")
This is a guy who beat a fellow mobster bloody and then - as an elegant finishing touch - stapled the guy's jacket to his chest.
Believe me, if you found out Tony Soprano was living next door, your next call would be for a Mayflower van.
In any event, the saga of this humble "waste management consultant" and his blood and crime families continues when The Sopranos' fourth season begins Sunday.
According to Time magazine, which previewed the first four episodes, story lines will center on the nose-diving economy and how it affects Tony's crew, a mob underboss who's backstabbing Tony, an informant the feds have planted in the midst of the Sopranos and Tony's continuing adventures in therapy, where he's now joined by his sister, Janice, and his daughter, Meadow.
Oh, and Tony's marriage to Carmela Soprano is falling apart.
Boy, that's hard to believe, huh?
Let's see, Tony's been cheating on Carmela for years, with everyone from strippers to secretaries and most recently with a mentally unbalanced woman who throws things at him and spits in his face.
Meanwhile, Carmela's had this weird, too-cozy relationship with Father Phil, a Catholic priest, not to mention the hots for a hunky home-repair contractor introduced to her by a friend.
So now there's trouble between these two lovebirds, Tony and Carm?
Yeah, that's a shocker, all right.
This Carmela Soprano is a real piece of work, anyway, as fans of the series know all too well.
For the first two seasons, Carmela seemed blissfully unconcerned that her husband was involved in organized crime and earned his living principally by deploying a crew of leg-breakers.
Instead, she reveled in all the perks that come with being a mob boss' wife: the NATO-base-sized house in the suburbs, the designer clothes, the luxury cars, the four-star restaurants, the private tennis lessons, the Ivy League college for Meadow.
But last season, we were led to believe that Carmela's conscience was starting to eat at her.
Oh, she still dressed to the hilt, tooled around in the Mercedes, ordered expensive bottles of wine at lunch, etc.
But now Carmela was supposed to be feeling guilty about the way Tony "earned" his money.
I don't know, does this sound plausible to you?
Even if we hadn't seen that episode where the feds are about to descend on Tony's house and Carmela frantically helps him move stacks of cash and automatic weapons from a secret hiding place in the ceiling, I don't see Carmela as the sort who agonizes over a few dozen dead guys in her husband's career path.
Look, this is a woman who personally extorted a letter of recommendation for Meadow to a prestigious college.
Does she strike you as the type to get queasy just because Tony occasionally takes batting practice on some deadbeat's kneecaps to put food on the table?
Me, I get the feeling that if Carmela decided to redecorate the living room, the first thing she'd do is turn to her husband and say: "Honey, isn't it about time for another truck hijacking?"
Gosh, I missed her.
In fact, I missed the whole hissing, thieving bunch.
It's nice to have them back.