As you may already know, I have strong feelings about violence on television. There ain't enough of it!! See, all these librarians, schoolmarms, and psycholiatrists have gotten it all wrong. Excessive violence doesn't make kids want to beat some ass; I'd say it even has the opposite effect. It makes them say, "Wow, ass-beatings look like they really hurt. I don't want my ass beat." Or "Bullets do that to people? I don't want to catch a cap in my ass." Or "Dropping that anvil on top of that coyote's head seems like it could be really painful. I think I'll pass on the anvil."

That's why, until recently, season four of The Sopranos [Sundays, HBO, 9:00 p.m.] has been a major snooze-a-thon. I mean, c'mon! These guys are goombahs, for the love of Mike! Where's the violence? Oh, suuuuuure, there's been the occasional nose-breaking, bitch-slapping, and belt-whupping, but where were all the cap-busting-off-in-asses scenes? Go ahead! Call me a bloodthirsty monster! But by living vicariously through the murders of others, I have not killed one single jerk here at the office. And in fact, my stress level has dropped 48 percent! (Granted, this also happened around the time I started taking Prozac, but don't stop me! I'm on a roll!)

Anyhoo, The Sopranos have been about as interesting as the skin floating on a bowl of clam chowder--until two episodes ago! That's when the show snapped awake and gave us the goriest, most bloodsoaked-a-riffic episode of the season featuring the death of the skeezy Ralphie Cifaretto (played by "King of Skeez" Joe Pantoliano). Ralphie has always been an embarrassment to the organization; he killed one of Tony's favorite strippers at the Bada Bing!, and his sexual preferences lean toward the unusual (i.e., having Tony's sister Janice stick a buzzy vibrator inside his "boom-boom room," and asking his partners to work on his nutsack with a cheese grater). However! Ralphie always brought in a lot of moolah for the organization, and as I always say to Grandma around Christmas, "Fork it over, baggy britches! Money talks and bull-poop walks!"

And because he was raking in the dough-re-mi, Ralphie was put on a long leash--that is, until he bit the wrong ankle. In order to pay for his son's hospital bill, Ralphie torched a horse stable to collect the insurance. The problem? Tony's pretty pony was in the stable! And as any Sopranos-lover knows, if there's anything Tony loves more than duckies? It's horsies.

So guess who shows up in Ralphie's kitchen? Tony Soprano, bearing a case of whup-ass. Naturally, he thrashes the life out of him in a particularly bloody fashion, and has his second-in-command Christopher (who's coming down off a heroin high--nice!) chop up the pieces and drop them in a bowling bag. And the real tragedy in all this? It was a perfectly good bowling bag!!

And herein lies the moral of our tale: A little violence here and there ain't gonna kill ya. However, putting a hit out on a goombah's horsie probably will.