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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW and, I'll confess it, I love The Sopranos.

Through the years, I've tried to keep my affection in check. But the fact is, this multilayered mob drama is a masterpiece, and as we enter the home stretch of nine episodes leading to the series' conclusion in June, I know how the end is gonna make me feel: like when I reach the last page of a really great novel.

The Sopranos returns on HBO Sunday night. But, being a critic, I got a gander at this episode several weeks ago. And that was when I realized just how uncool I could be, in the face of a new Sopranos fix.

I mean, right after receiving the preview DVD, I bolted from the office. A new Sopranos episode wasn't something to squander watching at my desk.

Then, at home, I prepared myself. I arranged the cushions on the couch. Poured myself a soda. Changed into my screening attire (gym shorts and T-shirt).

And then -- realizing the sooner I started watching the episode, the sooner it would be over -- I employed one final stalling tactic: I went and took a shower.

Just for the record, I've had my complaints about The Sopranos in the past. For instance, I wasn't all that satisfied with last season. So I want to make it clear: However much I've championed the show since it began eight years ago, I haven't been a helpless cheerleader.

And yet, in my opinion, where TV drama is concerned there are two ages, two epochs: Before The Sopranos... and the current era, which, with apologies to Latin scholars, I'm calling... Anno Sopranos.

Just look at what's on TV nowadays. Premiering on Showtime last night, The Tudors is a splashy soap opera covering the early reign of King Henry VIII as he tried to dump Queen Katherine and hook up with Anne Boleyn. Sometimes it's not so good to be the king. But it's sure fun to watch.

The Riches, which premiered three weeks ago, continues on FX. It's a twisted, often darkly funny drama about a family of grifters who decide to lie and steal their way into an honest middle-class lifestyle. It has a remarkable cast and an even more remarkable brashness.

That's always been the case with The Shield, the FX cop drama returning tomorrow for its sixth season. Starring Michael Chiklis as a renegade LAPD detective, this show, from its first episode in 2002, knocks me out with its complexity, consistency and rawboned power. And this could be its best season yet.

Would any of these shows have been possible before The Sopranos?

Isn't The Sopranos the drama series, now and in the foreseeable future, every other drama will be measured against?

That, too, was going through my head as I hit the play button and Tony Soprano began his customary drive back to his New Jersey home.

You should know, the premiere episode is brilliant. Tony and his wife, Carmela, are spending his birthday weekend with his sister Janice and her mobster husband, Bobby, at their lovely upstate New York summer home.

But Tony's in a funk. Tony seems more and more to be dwelling on a simple truth: namely, nothing is forever. And that's what this final Sopranos season is about: How will Tony confront the inevitable end?

For that matter, how will we?

Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.


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