'Sopranos' Take a Whack at New Blood

02/11/2004 AT 12:00 PM EST

It looks like television critics previewing the fifth season of HBO's popular Mafia-family drama "The Sopranos" will have blood on their hands -- and on their TV screens.

The critically acclaimed drama starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco pits Gandolfini's role as the head of two Soprano families -- his mob crew and his wife and children -- against one another. Season four drew some fire from viewers who complained that there was too much emphasis on Gandolfini's disintegrating marriage to his wife, played by Falco.

Some fans said they wanted to see more of the ruthless Mafiosi infighting that had characterized the show's earlier seasons. The new episodes apparently deliver -- at least that is the early indication after preview copies began making the rounds Tuesday.

The word is that tension on this season's episodes will be ratcheted up a bit over season four, with the introduction of several old-school characters, according to reports in the New York Post.

Among those reported to be introduced into the new season are Robert Loggia, Frank Vincent and Joe Santos, all of whom have years of big- and small-screen wise guy portrayals between them. The three play gangsters, recently released from prison, who are coming forward to reclaim their piece of the crime pie that Tony Soprano now controls.

Steve Buscemi, who has previously directed some "Sopranos" episodes, also joins the cast, playing Tony's cousin.

The new season premieres on HBO March 7.

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