HBO (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week


After a 16-month hiatus for HBO's acclaimed crime-family drama, Sept. 15 brings a sight for sore eyes: New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), paunch protruding proudly from his bathrobe, once again padding down his luxuriously long driveway to pick up the morning paper.

Just to break the monotony of critical approbation, I'd like to say The Sopranos has lost a step—but I can't. The early fourth-season episodes point to continued creative excellence. You'll be amused when Tony rants in the season opener about "zero growth" in his supposedly "recession-proof" business, and you'll be riveted in the second episode when his daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) calls him a "Mob boss" and he advances on her with barely controlled rage. Michael Imperioli, who plays Tony's restless nephew Christopher to near perfection, wrote the clever third episode, in which the Mafia crew fumes over a Native American group's disrespect for Columbus Day tradition.

Creator David Chase may be accused of an overreliance on psychotherapy. Not only does Tony keep confiding in Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), but Meadow and Tony's sister Janice (Aida Turturro) also have shrinks this season. Nonetheless, The Sopranos remains a unique combination of brains, wit and raw power.

Bottom Line: Still tops

PBS (Sun., Sept. 15, 8 p.m. ET)

Though I admired the sincerity of this Masterpiece Theatre production, I was disappointed in its superficiality.

Adapted by Esmeralda Santiago from her 1998 memoir, the drama concerns the teen years of a girl nicknamed Negi (Ana Maria Lagasca), who moves from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn in 1961. While her mother (Wanda De Jesus from Blood Work) manages a brood that grows from seven to nine over time, Negi rises above family strains and language problems to graduate from Manhattan's prestigious High School of Performing Arts. The film is flat and sketchy in showing Negi's progress, so we take more interest in her mom's ill-fated relationships with two men, gallant Francisco (Luis Garia) and shady Carlos (Francesco Quinn). There's a passion in De Jesus's performance that's otherwise lacking in this rather studied remembrance.

Bottom Line: Middling success story

The WB (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET)

According to a network press release, the '60s sitcom Family Affair has been "rejuvenated and fast-forwarded to the current day with The WB's unique flair." This much is true: You'll want to fast-forward through the remake's Sept. 12 opener whenever Tim Curry isn't onscreen.

Curry, best known for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, does bring a bit of flair to this affair with his work in the old Sebastian Cabot role of Giles French, proper British manservant to rich New York City bachelor Bill Davis (Gary Cole, succeeding Brian Keith). Curry arches his brow to an imperial height when Mr. French first sets eyes on Bill's ever-so-cute niece Buffy (Sasha Pieterse) and nephew Jody (Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak). And the premiere gives the butler a decent opportunity to wax waspish when the 6-year-old twin orphans move into the dee-luxe apartment just ahead of their 14-year-old sibling Sissy (Caitlin Wachs). Unfortunately, things turn sticky-sweet when Bill and the tykes share some quality time—soft music, big hug—and by the end of the hour the rejuvenation has worn off.

Bottom Line: Only the butler gives good service

Sunday, Sept. 15 JUST CAUSE PAX (9 p.m. ET) An ex-con turns legal eagle in a series premiere with Richard Thomas and Elizabeth Lackey.

Monday, Sept. 16 EVERWOOD The WB (9p.m.ET) Treat Williams is a widowed doc who moves his family from the Big Apple to a small Colorado town in this drama debut.

Tuesday, Sept. 17 8 SIMPLE RULES... ABC (8 p.m. ET) It's the start of a new sitcom with John Ritter as a dad struggling to figure out his two teenage girls.

Wednesday, Sept. 18 THE TWILIGHT ZONE UPN (9 p.m. ET) Forest Whitaker inherits Rod Serling's mantle as the supernatural anthology is reborn.

Thursday, Sept. 19 SURVIVOR: THAILAND CBS (8 p.m. ET) Been missing those weekly tribal councils? The latest reality round gets under way.

Friday, Sept. 20 FIREFLY FOX (8 p.m. ET) From the creator of Buffy comes the debut of a futuristic series set on a transport spaceship.

Saturday, Sept. 21 FARM AID 2002 CMT (5p.m.ET) Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Matthews perform live at the annual agri-benefit.