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This has been the longest week . . .

But then, in some ways, it could last forever for all I care.

Waiting for the final episode of “The Sopranos” is excruciating. But once Sunday comes, the reality will hit me: This Sunday’s episode will be the final one. Ever.

Torture.

The Sopranos” is simply the best show ever in the history of television. There is no series that compares or, for that matter, even comes close.

There has been no other cast capable of commanding your attention the way the cast of “The Sopranos” does. There is no other combination of script wedded with actor that can leave you scratching your head long after the episode is over the way “The Sopranos” does and, just when you think you have figured out the meaning, nuances and motivations, you read an article or talk to someone and learn about a detail you overlooked.

There is no other television program that you can spend your entire lunch hour discussing and debating with your coworkers — and still not be finished with the conversation by the time you must return to the office. You could write a doctoral thesis to earn your degree in any number of disciplines — psychology, sociology or criminal justice just for starters — based upon the characters and their motivations.
So here, in no particular order, are my thirteen all-time favorite characters from the series:

1. Tony Soprano

Actually, I was tempted to type “Tony Soprano” thirteen times and call it good. Tony, as portrayed by the incomparable James Gandolfini, is just that fascinating.

And have I mentioned that I think Gandolfini is hot, hot, hot?

2. Carmela Soprano

What a piece of work! From her big hair, make-up, fake nails and jewelry to her obsession with security and respectability, and need to be loved by Tony, Carmela is a tangled mass of contradictions.

I really lost sympathy for her when she went to see a psychiatrist a few seasons back who told her that she had to leave Tony because everything in her life was a lie and all gain gotten was from others’ blood. Then I felt sorry for her again when she discovered the extent of Tony’s infidelity. Then I lost sympathy for her when she took him back in the name of financial security. Then I felt sorry for her again when . . . oh, she gives me a headache. But she’s fascinating.

3. Dr. Jennifer Melfi

Who knew that the character of a psychiatrist could be so intriguing? All those reaction shots could have been “phoned in” by a lesser actor, but Lorraine Bracco managed to keep us entranced. The scene depicting her being raped in the stairway of her office building remains one of the most disturbing and difficult to watch in television history, but the storyline after the rape’s aftermath and her resolve not to tell Tony what happened was compelling.

4. Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero

Sadly, he sleeps with the fishes.

5. Janice Soprano Baccalieri

Seriously twisted. You would be too if Livia Soprano was your mother. Tony has bailed her out of tough spots on many occasions, most notably when she killed Richie Aprile so the guys disposed of his body by running him through the grinder at Satriale’s. He elevated Bobby after she married him and got them their dream house. Still, she’s never satisfied.

Did you see the look on her face when Carmela walked in following Bobby’s death?

Here’s my prediction: Janice will be the one who whacks Tony this Sunday night, not Phil Leotardo.

Think about it.

6. Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri

Bobby was going to be different than his murdering father, but Tony wasn’t having it. In the end, Janice’s ambition for Bobby was his undoing . . . but my money says she’s blaming it all on Tony, in conformity with her usual m.o. After all, nothing is ever her fault. In her own demented way, I think she came closer to loving Bobby than she could have with anyone else.

7. Ralph Cifaretto

Moral of Ralph’s story: Tell fat jokes or hurt animals and lose your head. Literally.
8. Furio Giunta

The Enforcer. BigBob would always say, “Uh oh . . . there’s goes Furio!” just as he was gearing up for the first punch.

Moral of Furio’s story: Don’t all in love with the wife of the boss. He allegedly went back to Italy. I think he sleeps with the fishes there.

9. Livia Soprano

If Walt Disney had seen her, she could have been the prototype for the ultimate Disney-style sicko mother or stepmother.

The late, brilliant Nancy Marchand left us too soon.

10. John “Johnny Sack” Sacrimoni

The simple act of taking a drag on a cigarette was never so stylish, revealing or ominous as when Vince Curatola was on screen.

11. Paulie Walnuts

“Marone!” The ultimate whiny mama’s boy sported bad ’70’s mobster fashion and played both sides, narrowly escaping (so far) Tony’s wrath for running to Johnny Sack and ratting out Ralph for telling the fat joke about his Johnny’s wife.

12. Vito Spatafore

Poor Vito. ‘Nuff said.

13. Silvio Dante

Strong, steady, loyal . . . now “not expected to regain consciousness.”

But his hair will live on in the Smithsonian and Stevie van Zandt will continue playing with The Boss (Springsteen).

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