Another Mob Squad

A year ago, "Falcone" might have become one of the hottest shows on television. A taut, sharp drama about an FBI agent (Jason Gedrick) who infiltrates the New York mob while struggling to balance the demands of his family, "Falcone" is a compelling look at a good man buffeted by the winds of evil. The acting is strong, the writing is edgy and the story lines are full of double-crossing surprises. There's only one problem: "Falcone" is debuting on CBS this week in the hulking shadow of HBO's landmark mob series "The Sopranos." While "Falcone" does many things right, it's almost impossible to watch it without thinking about how "The Sopranos" does them all better.

The comparison is unfair, of course. "Falcone" doesn't really attempt to walk the same turf as "The Sopranos." The new show is very much an old-fashioned mob story--in fact, it's based on the same true-life material that inspired the 1997 movie "Donnie Brasco." More tense and suspenseful than "Sopranos," "Falcone" centers on the high-risk battles behind the crime-family feuds and schemes. FBI agent Joe Falcone gets caught in the cross-fire. On the one hand, he begins to sympathize with some of his mob brothers, especially as he becomes the right-hand man for his calculating crime captain, Sonny (Titus Welliver). Meanwhile, his home life deteriorates, as his top-secret job not only keeps him away from his wife (Amy Carlson) and two daughters but doesn't allow him to explain himself. If "Falcone" resembles anything, it's "Wiseguy" with heartstrings.

But for "Sopranos" fanatics, comparisons will be irresistible. Some are small, such as how HBO gets away with wiseguy-like profanity, while "Falcone" is limited to colorless clunkers like calling someone a "jag-off." "Falcone" is also the victim of an unfortunate casting coincidence: Lillo Brancato Jr., who played dimwitted, hotheaded Matthew on "Sopranos" (before Tony and Big Pussy whacked him), shows up on "Falcone" as another dimwitted, hotheaded mob soldier. Even Falcone's moving struggle to keep his family together sometimes feels two-dimensional compared with the psychological depth that Tony, Carmela & Co. play out every week. The fact is, "The Sopranos" has raised the bar for TV mob jobs, and "Falcone" occasionally trips on it.

Ironically, "Falcone" didn't have to go head to head with "The Sopranos." CBS planned to air its show last fall but pulled it because the network feared it was too violent in the wake of the Columbine murders. CBS TV president Leslie Moonves doesn't deny he changed his mind in part because of the success of "Sopranos." Moonves, who calls himself a "Sopranos" fan, says he isn't worried about the comparisons. "As great as 'Sopranos' is, we can hold our head high. Our show is terrific," he says. And he's giving it a big push. In an unprecedented move, CBS is airing "Falcone" like a mini-series--nine episodes over eight nights. "In this 500-channel universe, you have to do things to distinguish your average drama or it may get lost," Moonves says. We'll know soon if that's enough to keep Tony Soprano from making "Falcone" disappear altogether.

Another Mob Squad | News