Somewhere along the line, apparently this meeting occurred concerning season six of the Sopranos.

Executive 1: People seems to love this show. Any ideas on how we can make it even better?
Executive 2: Well, I’ve had some thoughts about that actually.
Exe. 1: Go on.
Exe. 2: Well, I was thinking. People seem to love the mob aspect of the show, you know, the killings, the interactions between the different levels of people within the organization, all of that. It’s really our bread and butter, the reason people have been watching for as long as they have.
Exe.1: Right, right.
Exe.2: Well, how about we get rid of all that?
Exe.1: I was thinking the same thing!
Exe.2: Great, great. Yeah, let’s get rid of all that interesting mob stuff and throw in, oh I don’t know, feelings and emotions. People, especially our core audience of males ages 18 to 35, love talking about emotions and feelings!
Exe.1: Outstanding. Anything else to make the show even better?
Exe.2: How about we gay it up a bit?
Exe.1: Brilliant.

And thus the first part of season six was born, which was the worst batch of episodes in the run of the show. Not only did virtually nothing happen overall, the main character was shot and entered a bizarre alternate reality (seriously) that made no sense and lasted for about a third of the episodes. And all of that nonsense was padded out with an out of place and poorly executed story line about the homosexuality of one of the characters, which served essentially no purpose whatsoever. Needless to say, it sucked and it sucked hard. Hey, everybody working on the Sopranos, if I want to watch a show that has decreased in quality over time, makes little to no sense, and drops plot lines at random because they don’t know how to bring them to fruition, I know where to find Lost.

Thankfully, though, all is not lost. Starting last night, the second half of the Sopranos’ final season began, giving the show a full nine episodes to right the ship and bring the series to a satisfying conclusion. Based on those black and white “Made in America” promo ads that make Tony look like a tranny, we’re already not off to a good start. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Here’s the three key elements I’ll be looking for in each of the new episodes.

1. Gratuitous nudity
I mean, Tony’s office is in a strip club for God’s sake. We can’t have at least one scene with the Bada-Bing girls swaying suggestively in the background? Can’t we change Tony’s hangout from that deli to the strip club? Would it really be that hard? Hey, I love fresh cold cuts as much as the next guy. Just not as much as I love breasts. So there you go. I’m not even getting greedy here, it’s not like I’m demanding Meadow or (Adrianna’s ghost) have a topless scene or something. Strippers and whores will be just fine, thank you. Frankly, after a season filled with antiquing and “Johnny Cakes”, I think we’ve all earned a little pointless nudity.

2. Gratuitous violence
I want my delightful stereotypical Italian violence and I want it right now!

3. An act of complete and utter insanity by Paulie Walnuts
Falling in love with a painting, getting lost in the woods, knocking a guy out of a tree and stealing his lawn mower, convincing himself that ghosts are not only real, but also that they are haunting him. This is just some of the genius that is Paulie Walnuts.

There are nine episodes left in the series. Are you telling me David Chase and Co. can’t find at least one opportunity in each for Paulie to do something completely batshit insane? I don’t care if Tony is blathering on to Dr. Melfi and all of a sudden we cut to Paulie strangling a clown to death, then cut back without explanation. Get the crazy in there.

Those are the three elements I feel make up the best episodes of the Sopranos (along with, you know, acting, dialogue, and story, but not really). Nothing in the world would make me happier to report that the show went back to its roots for this first episode and is now back on track for an exciting finale.

But, of course, the new episode was awful. If nothing else, at least Chase and Co. are consistent. Here’s what you missed, or more accurately, what you didn’t miss while I was watching this drivel and you were out living your lives.

After getting arrested on a dubious firearm charge, which in a roundabout way let us know that the FBI has been gathering evidence for a RICO case against him (which everyone in the world knew was coming), Tony decides to take a little vacation with Carmela to Bobby and Janice’s summer home. And the episode basically revolves around those four characters as they spend time with each other at the lake. And yes, it was just as electrifying as it sounds. If you ever wanted to see Janice sing karaoke, watch Tony and Carmela play Monopoly, or watch Tony stare vacantly out at a lake, boy was this the episode for you. If you wanted to see a compelling story with great acting, outstanding writing, and amazing twists, well, I suggest you buy the first season of the Sopranos on DVD. The highlight of all this was a drunken fistfight between Tony and Bobby because Tony called Janice a whore (even though she clearly is) which would have been exciting, except that it wasn’t. Remember the Natural Disasters, Earthquake and Typhoon, from the old WWF days? This fight was like watching those two in a slap fight, only less graceful. And that’s pretty much all that happened.

The episode concludes with Bobby killing someone we don’t care about (the son-in-law of someone selling phony prescription drugs to the Soprano family for re-sale), Tony and Carmela returning home, me checking my watch for the four thousandth time, and David Chase and the HBO executive having a good laugh and counting their money.

Thrilling, no?

Final Score:
Gratuitous nudity
None. Unless you want to count Bobby’s heaving man-teats, which were shown in prominence.

Gratuitous violence
Bobby shot some guy in the head. Whatever.

Paulie Walnuts moment
Paulie was onscreen long enough to deliver one line and for me to get out, “Hey, it’s Paulie Wal-“ before he was gone for the rest of the episode. Not exactly what I would call a memorable appearance.

Final Rating: D

You’ve got eight episodes left, you sons of bitches. How about we make them count?