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I’ve been told by just about everyone and their mother (quite literally) that HBO’s “The Sopranos“–starring James Gandolfini as New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano and Edie Falco as his wife Carmela–is the best show on television. Better than “The West Wing”? I have to say, I can’t imagine that’s possible. But after many years of resistance and despite the violence and contsant trips to the Bada Bing (a strip club they love to hang in, so not my thing), I decided to take the plunge and take part in HBO’s “Countdown to the Sopranos.” Starting in December, HBO released Season One to On Demand viewers, followed by Season Two yesterday, and so on and so forth until March 2006, when the long-awaited new Season Six finally airs (fans have been waiting almost two years now).

And I have to admit, now that I’m a little more than halfway through Season One and racing to watch all 13 episodes before getting too behind on Season 2’s release, I’m hooked. I’ve decided I’m in it for the long haul, between the utter complexity of Tony Soprano’s character–good-guy/caring family man/guy who’ll “wack” just about anyone who gets in his way–and the growing tension between Carmela and Father Phil, her confessor and the local parish priest, and all the hilarious Italian references and commentary that anyone growing up in an Italian family can’t help but recognize and love (that would be me). A total of 65 episodes, I figure there will be plenty of time between waiting for new episodes of “The West Wing” and the start of “24” once again on Fox to catch up.

One of the highlights so far is in Episode 9, “Boca,” when Tony thrills at a moral milestone in his life: He resists doing serious violence to a man who is hurting his daughter Meadow and her friends–and instead turns him into the police. Perhaps there’s hope for Tony yet.

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