THE SOPRANOS. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.
JOHN FROM CINCINNATI. 10 p.m. Sunday, HBO. (Moves to 9 p.m. Sundays next week.)
DON'T KNOW ABOUT you, but if I were Tony Soprano right now, I'd be thinking my show was about to get whacked.
Because while there's nothing more lifelike than enormous changes at the last minute, there's also nothing more TV-like than the beautifully choreographed onrushing train that - metaphorically - ran over Tony's two closest associates this week, just about the time that Tony's shrink of seven years was dumping him.
If "The Sopranos" had been about Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) or Bobby (Steve Schirripa), things might have looked different Sunday night, but "The Sopranos" has always been about one Soprano in particular - Tony (James Gandolfini) - and for him, the loss of Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) seemed to resonate most.
Melfi's long-overdue realization that her most problematic patient had never been worth the time or angst she'd spent on him wasn't the only hard truth in that profoundly depressing episode.
There was also Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) reminding us that the late Carmine Lupertazzi (Tony Lip) always considered the Soprano crime family "a glorified crew."
"Five f- - - - - - families, and this other pygmy thing over in Jersey," he said dismissively.
Hey, is that any way to talk about one of the cultural phenomenons of the turn of the 21st century?
Maybe it is.
"Sopranos" creator David Chase has always seemed ambivalent about the monster he created in that first splendid season of "The Sopranos," as well he might be.
A middle-aged mobster whose mother never loved him might be an artistic achievement, but I doubt Chase ever intended him to become such a sex symbol. And though the writers have done everything they could to keep the monster in plain sight, it's been Gandolfini's gift to make the monster human, and in "Shrek"-like fashion, even lovable.
So much so that some viewers have worried as much about Tony's ending as they have their own.
I think it's time to stop all that.
Watching this postscript of a season has been like seeing someone in the final stages of a long and painful illness gradually letting go of the very things that had once made them cling to life: food, love, hope for the future.
Carmela (Edie Falco) can clearly make it without a husband. Brainy Meadow's dating a mobster's son, Tony's own son, A.J., is a depressed thug.
And when I saw Tony throw away a perfectly good sandwich the other night, I knew it was time to start making arrangements.
I don't know if an hour's long enough for ducks or mother figures or some further betrayal by someone close to Tony or a terrorist attack or any of the other things some of us have speculated might be part of a "Sopranos" finale.
Looking ahead to that last hour, I don't much care whether Tony lives or dies. What I do hope is that we're not all made to feel as if our time, like Melfi's, had been wasted.
'Sopranos' to surfers
Conventional wisdom says HBO can't lose by premiering David Milch's new series, "John From Cincinnati," right after "The Sopranos'" final curtain.
Chances are the mob drama's going out on a Nielsen high note. So why not grab those viewers before they leave their seats?
Well, if conventional wisdom can explain anything or anyone in the first hour of "John" - from Bruce Greenwood as a granddad surfer who discovers he can levitate to the show's frankly annoying title character, played by Austin Nichols - then I'd suggest old CW stick around after "The Sopranos" and provide commentary.
Because I haven't a clue.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It took me a while to warm up to Milch's "Deadwood," a show I eventually came to see as one of the best dramas ever.
And in a summer full of mindless competitions with "America" in the title, I'm not unwilling to put a little more work into figuring out what Milch is up to with this mystical surfer dude stuff, or even into determining how it is he's been able to find characters in 1870s South Dakota and 2007 southern California who all sound so much like him.
But what I'm just not seeing is a nation of presumably stunned and saddened "Sopranos" viewers choosing to hang ten with Milch on this particular Sunday night. *
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