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''Sopranos,'' ''West Wing,'' ''Alias'' and Other Weekend Viewing

By RD Heldenfels Published: May 1, 2006

The weekend's TV viewing consisted of bits and pieces here and there, operating around chores of one sort or another. Did catch pieces of the NFL Draft, Indians baseball and Cavs basketball, though in no case did I watch something in its entirety. (The sports weekend was complete this morning when movie critic George Thomas -- diehard Buckeye and Browns fan -- declared, ''Santonio Holmes is DEAD to me!'')

(Later in the day: George has moved on to an old refrain: ''VHS is DEAD to me!'')

I did make a dent in the disorder in the study and the basement, though, and actually got ahead of TV in one case -- the two-part ''House'' episode airing this week, which I'll deal with in a separate post.

I'm not an ''Alias'' fan but I've been paying attention as it charges toward its season finale, and I think I've been paying attention in part because the finale is in sight. Shows like '"Alias'' and ''X-Files'' tend to madden me because I know that as long as their networks will keep the roller-coaster going, there isn't going to be any true resolution. There may even be those dreaded ''forget everything you knew'' episodes, when the show has boxed itself in and knows it has to start over for another season. But since I am believing -- hoping? -- that ''Alias'' will tie up some loose ends, I'm trying to enjoy the latest ride.

Although I did groan when Rambaldi came up again. And groaned more when the show felt the need to explain Rambaldi one more time, as if someone who had never watched the show before might actually be tuning in for the first time now.

Speaking of coming to an end, ''West Wing'' had one of its better recent episodes last night. Well, half of a better episode. The parts dealing with Vinick's life after the election were good, and Alan Alda gave a standout performance. And I am very, very glad that the show decided not to do the Vinick-as-VP storyline that had been speculated about (and even teased in one of those famously misleading NBC promos). Secretary of State I can handle.

But where the Vinick material was good, the Santos-goes-to-the-White-House stuff is getting really tired, and Teri Polo is not getting many notes to play. From what we have seen of her before, Santo's wife is too smart not to know that she's stepping into another world at the White House, so I don't buy all these dramatic variations on brushing the straw out of her hair. But I loved the look she gave him in the car when he tried to bail out of school-searching. It was one of those no-nonsense, no-mercy looks that all husbands should know.

I didn't get to ''The Sopranos'' until this morning. What a fine episode. Good to see that Vito didn't just disappear from the show, or be limited to a point of contention between Tony and Phil. Instead, we got to see what his life is becoming, how uncertain it is, and how troubled Vito really was; the scene in the parking lot, where he abruptly reverted to closeted form, was well played. But the show is so textured that we didn't even have to settled for that. We had Tony's continuing emotional struggles after the shooting, this time in terms of his relationship with Carmela, and another look at A.J.

Interesting how A.J. and Tony are in similar places emotionally, both trying to decide if they want to break out of their old habits, and whether they want to be good people -- ''good'' being something they also have to define.

Tony's latest challenge, of course, involved whether he was going to continue to cheat on Carmela. He basically did, but he also stopped before reaching a point where he might not consider himself ''good.'' But that was of a piece with the issue of how much he should be an old-school mobster, a role he rejects twice -- once when telling Phil to back off while Tony decides how to deal with Vito (a situation we know he would prefer not to deal with at all), and again when he tosses aside his place as godfather of the old neighborhood, because times are changing -- and there is money to be made.

A.J., meanwhile, is once again having to ask himself if he's just going to be another bum living off his family's name and success. If he chooses that course, he ends up basically as Little Carmine -- and, just as Little Carmine proved a dud when he tried to be a real mob guy, so A.J. proves inept when he seeks Soprano-like revenge on his uncle. But if he's not going to stay in his father's shadow, what then should he be? What is he capable of being? He doesn't know, obviously -- hence the panic attacks whenever he faces the big question of what direction he is going to take in life.

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