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"The Sopranos": All in The Family

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Making a compelling website out of a complex drama is tough, even when it’s for a phenomenally popular show about mobsters. The trick is to make a site interesting to people who don’t understand why saying “Oh, poor you” provokes hilarity, as well as to fans who spout Soprano-isms like made men.

HBO’s solution is to bake a little of everything into its Sopranos Web-ziti (http://www.hbo.com/sopranos). Unless you’re looking for show summaries, skip the Insiders episode guide and go straight to the Family Tree. Each cast member mug shot on this page is a portal to sequential RealVideo clips that provide a primer on last season (Carmela and Father Phil becoming friendly), expose the characters’ motives (Livia selling Tony out from her hospital bed), and introduce new cast members (Janice Soprano making her first visit). While the Family Tree, created by the interactive vidiots at Softcom, is an ingenious alternative to the usual show-by-show breakdown, the software nastily takes over the PC instead of putting the viewer in charge — which is probably just the way Tony himself would want it.

If you already think of Meadow as your own sister, there’s plenty more Sopranos grit-and-grist in the FBI Files section. Aside from a lame setup — which is that you’ve just hacked into the computers of two FBI field agents working the Soprano case — the diaries, memos, and original videos let you view the series through Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern binoculars. After downloading a separate viewing application to your desktop, you can read about why frustrated Agent Taylor pities the whacked rat Jimmy Altieri, or watch a video of Agent Lipari interviewing a Bada Bing club dancer. The only complaint about this companion piece is that it isn’t fatter; a less dorky design, and a little dirt on upcoming episodes, could turn these FBI Files into a must-have fix for Sopranos addicts.

If I had to guess the 1950s-loving Soprano family’s taste in websites, it would probably be something like 34-year-old J. Geoff Malta’s The Godfather Trilogy (http://www.jgeoff.com/godfa ther.html). For anyone unfamiliar with The Sopranos‘ love for all things Corleone, this site immediately informs you that Godfather Part II is Tony’s favorite. And there’s plenty more for a don to chew on here: complete transcripts of the first two films, along with highlighted audio samples; theme songs; still photos; a slide show deconstructing the baptism sequence; visits to the locations where famous scenes were filmed; and even a recorded message from author Mario Puzo, who died last year.

True il padrino-philes, though, will want to put some heat on the dozens of sites devoted to the real Cosa Nostra: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno, and Gotti families. One of the most authoritative is AmericanMafia.com (http://www.americanmafia.com), run by 37-year-old Rick Porrello, a working cop and author who says he was Sammy Davis Jr.’s drummer for three years. Unlike other sites that focus on the best-known crews, Porrello’s delves into organized crime in cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cleveland (where his grandfather was a mobster). The database of ’90s Mob hits looks utterly complete but lacks the gruesome photos found on such competing sites as That Life (http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Lot/6713). Still, with 10 writers submitting feature stories and an up-to-date feed of Mob-related articles from papers around the world, AmericanMafia.com must be where young A.J. Soprano logged on in episode 4 and discovered that his father wasn’t in the waste- management business after all. Sopranos B Godfather Trilogy: A American Mafia.com: B+

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