Tony and Carmela's sex lives heat up. In a meandering episode, Tony steals Ralphie's hot new galpal while Carmela and Furio ponder the deadly risks of adultery, says Bruce Fretts
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James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Credit: The Sopranos: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini

Tony and Carmela’s sex lives heat up

It’s official: I’ve curbed my enthusiasm for ”The Sopranos.” With another poky, uninspired episode, ”Mergers and Acquisitions,” the Mafia drama surrendered its status as HBO’s must-see Sunday series to its lead-out, Larry David’s improv comedy ”Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Tony Soprano and his crew weren’t even the evening’s most entertaining gangsters. That distinction went to David, who’s been cast as a mobster in a Martin Scorsese movie on ”Curb,” as well as to gut-bustingly wack gangsta rapper Krazee-Eyez Killa (Chris Williams). The episode of ”Enthusiasm” miraculously tied together these elements with sly gags about oral sex, bubble wrap, people who insist on giving you tours of their houses, clothing-store folding techniques, and the etiquette of dancing in front of widows — all without the benefit of a script.

In contrast, it took no fewer than five ”Sopranos” scribes to come up with this week’s disjointed teleplay. The closest thing to a central story line found Tony embarking on an affair with Valentina La Paz (Leslie Bega), a half-Cuban/half-Italian frame-shop employee with a fondness for fake fingernails and practical jokes. Tony’s motivation was unclear: Was he trying to stick it to Ralphie, who’s ostensibly Valentina’s lover? Or was he merely on the rebound after finding out his ex-mistress Irina is sleeping with Assemblyman Zellman? In any case, one thing is certain: We heard way too many details about Ralphie’s masochistic sexual proclivities (personally, I’ll never be able to use a cheese grater quite the same way again).

In an allegedly related story, the sparks of attraction between Furio and Carmela keep threatening to explode. Here’s the problem: We understand what she sees in him — a chance to exact payback on her chronically unfaithful husband — but what does Furio see in the Boss’ wife? Back in Italy to bury his father, he confessed to his uncle that he loved Carmela and knew the only way he could be with her is to kill Tony. But barring a contract dispute with James Gandolfini, we know that’ll never happen, so it seems inevitable that either Furio will get whacked (yawn) or Carm will narrowly avert infidelity again, just like she did with the priest and the contractor (double yawn).

An equally depressing sense of déjà vu surrounds the subplot about Paulie moving his aging mother into Green Grove, the nursing home where Livia Soprano once held court. Two old acquaintances excluded Mama Walnuts from their clique, leading Paulie to send his goons to break the arm of one of their sons, a high-school principal. Doesn’t Paulie — not to mention the ”Sopranos” writers — have bigger fish to fry (or sleep with) now that he’s cuddling up to Johnny Sack?

Granted, there was one intriguing development in ”Mergers and Acquisitions” that could pay future dividends. Tired of being kept in the financial dark, Carmela dug out some of the cash Tony buried in the backyard composter and secretly invested it. Now that he’s discovered the money is missing, will Tony bust Carm for taking it? This material might seem less suited to HBO than CNBC (perhaps not coincidentally, the fiscal net’s ”Money Honey,” Maria Bartiromo, popped up during the episode), but I’ll still tune in next week to see how it turns out. And I’ll definitely stay tuned for ”Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Have you curbed your enthusiasm for ”The Sopranos”?

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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