The Insider

Mar 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

It was a different kind of mob scene at the March 2 party in honor of Sunday night’s return of “The Sopranos” for its fifth and next-to-last season on HBO. After the first two new episodes were screened at Radio City Music Hall, James Gandolfini smiled easily and posed for photographers, his fiancee Lora Somoza seldom more than an arm’s length away, after they crossed 50th Street and made their way to the labyrinthine party areas around Rockefeller Plaza’s signature rink, which is still covered with carefully cultivated ice.

An oh-so-sleek and glammer-than-ever Edie Falco sported a look so different-suggestions of Goldie Hawn, Madonna and a “Knots Landing”-era Donna Mills-that supermarket tabloid addicts wondered, “Does she or doesn’t she land smack-dab at the top of the next Did-they-or-didn’t-they-get-a-cosmetic-tweak roundup?”

As for Jamie-Lynn DiScala, who has turned into a young Barbara Parkins-ish sophisticate in the 15 months since the fourth season ended, well, all The Insider can say is “like TV mother, like TV daughter.” She coulda, shoulda been a contender for the lead role in ABC’s Natalie Wood biopic last week.

There were, of course, lots of the usual suspects, by which The Insider means no disrespect. Robert Iler was looking like a young and almost-goateed Nathan Lane. A bronzed Lorraine Bracco was not at all shrink-wrapped in silver lame.

As for returning or former members of the Sopranos family: Could creator David Chase be any more press-phobic? (The Insider can say no more.) Could Tony Sirico’s Paulie Walnuts’ wings fly any wider? Could Annabella Sciorra look any more Gloria-s (if that late, lamented and loony mistress of Tony were keeping up with Catherine Zeta-Jones)? Steven Schirripa had a new low-carb look to him. Steven Van Zandt had his familiar gypsy thing going.

There were a few vaguely familiar faces (Allison Dunbar, who has an eponymous Web site and a list of TV credits that range from “Silk Stalkings” to a recurring role on “The Sopranos” as Nicole Lupertazzi), and some visiting faces (“Sex and the City’s” bitter sweetie, Mario Cantone, still as animated as he’d been while dishing and dissing Oscar fashions on “The View”).

But it was the new faces that set this couch potato’s heart aflutter: David Strathairn (who will play a school counselor who catches suddenly single Carmela’s eye); Robert Loggia (who is earning raves for his role as a violent ex-con named Feech); Patti D’Arbanville (as a loan shark, though forever revered by The Insider as Ken Wahl’s partner in sexy crime on “Wiseguy”); and Polly Bergen (as a link to Tony’s late father).

But The Insider has saved the best for last: Steve Buscemi, who finally joins “The Sopranos” cast as Tony’s ex-con cousin, two seasons after he directed “Pine Barrens,” in which a big, bad, bleeding Russian mobster gave bumbling Paulie and Christopher the slip in the wilds of New Jersey.

It doesn’t bother Mr. Buscemi that the Russian-not to mention Paulie and Christopher’s big, warm car-has never been seen or heard from again.

“I didn’t write it,” Mr. Buscemi said. “I hate when things are wrapped up neatly. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things turned out.”

So The Insider has now resolved to get over her need to know what happened to the ride and the Russian and, frankly, she’s having only slightly more success getting over the need for nicotine.

And as The Insider slips out the door to sneak a smoke, she leaves you with two near-random thoughts:

* Mr. Buscemi was not bored out of his gourd by the Oscarcast.

“I thought [producer] Joe Roth did a fabulous job. He let people say what was human.” Hear, hear, says The Insider, who nevertheless remains mystified by the whole “Lord of the Rings” thing.

* Patience while waiting outside NBC’s headquarters to get downstairs to “The Sopranos”’ see-and-be-seen scene was rewarded with what ranks as the best “free-range” celebrity sighting in months. Colin Firth, who was preparing to host “Saturday Night Live” March 13, left the building at about 9 p.m. and caused almost no stir-except in The Insider’s heart-because the crowd on the street had eyes only for “The Sopranos.”