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funny thing happens on your A way through the first episode

of Sopranos 3. For the very first time, you want Tony to get caught. Or more accurately, you don’t want the Feds to get the red- handed treatment when they are planting bugs into the palatial, blood-money Soprano home (or the sausage factory, as it has been coded by the cops).

The new series’ opening episode encapsulates just what makes The Sopranos so great. For two seasons, we’ve purred over the guilty pleasures of cheering on violent, sadistic, cheating, abusive, conniving crooks. How can we possibly like Tony Soprano, a man whose opening scene saw him break a man’s leg? Not to mention his later indiscretions such as strangling a rival with cheesewire, assaulting an employee with a telephone, the casual xenophobia or, surely the ultimate crime, calling his mum ‘a demented old bat’. And less charmingly, ‘that cunt’.

We love him because he’s a doting (if largely unsuccessful) father, a modern male suffering massive self- doubt and nasty panic attacks; he’s good to his friends and fellow members in the waste disposal business (unless they betray him and then it’s cement slippers time); and if you include allowing ducks to splash around in his pool, he’s even shown kindness to animals.

Now, at the first moment when we are shown a different side to the story (the usual one you get in crime dramas, the law’s side) we feel ourselves almost willing him to be nabbed. And yet, normality reigns when the results of the Feds‘ painstaking efforts is detailed analysis of Tony’s diet.

For The Sopranos though, there’s nothing normal about this first episode; as well as the unexpected switch in point-of-view, there is a

How can we possibly like Tony Soprano, a man who calls his mum ‘a demented old bat’, and less charmingly, ‘that cunt’?

throbbing narrative soundtrack throughout: the Dragnet theme tune circles around and dives on top of The Police’s Every Breath You Take; the prominent bass lines struggle to be distinguished from one another.

While much of the episode’s typically electric dialogue goes to those spying on Tony, the hour is otherwise spent establishing new sets of groups and environments. With the Feds staked outside, Anthony Jnr (codename Baby Bing) is seen hanging out with his nu metal mall rats for

. ' ‘5, . ' . the first time; Carmela is seen hanging out on tennis courts; even Tony’s regular crew includes a couple of new faces, one of whom is part of Uncle Junior’s team.

The sense of order is re- established with episode two, though a family death brings out the magnificent worst in everyone. It would naturally be cruel to reveal too much of the significant developments except to say that for all the beatings, stranglings, shootings and suicides we’ve seen so far in The Sopranos, nothing can prepare you for the brutality unleashed upon one major character.

And while the levels of revulsion merely mount, we can’t stop ourselves from loving these flawed douchebags. To invoke the crew’s crooning hero, this looks like being a very good year. (Brian Donaldson)