7TH HEAVEN. 8 p.m. Sunday, Channel 57.
THE SOPRANOS. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.
TONY SOPRANO and the Rev. Eric Camden don't often appear in the same sentence, but as each gets ready to fade from our TV screens, they have more in common than you might think.
On HBO's "The Sopranos," Tony (James Gandolfini) is behaving oddly - even for him - and making the people around him more and more nervous.
On the CW's "7th Heaven," which will take its second run at a series finale May 13, Sunday's next-to-last episode finds Eric (Stephen Collins) also behaving oddly - even for him - and making the people around him more and more nervous.
Both men harbor a not unreasonable concern that they might be leaving their jobs feet first - Eric due to a heart condition his doctors have told him is terminal, Tony as a result of the job itself, which appears to rival Alaskan king crab fishing for occupational hazards.
He might, indeed, even meet his end on a boat.
Or at least be buried at sea.
Tony, who's developed a gambling problem that seems out of character for the sometimes tight-fisted mob boss, has lately been engaging in the kind of magical thinking that so often snares compulsive gamblers.
Having checked in on "7th Heaven" only sporadically since the first season, I missed the gambling episode. But knowing the show's penchant for tackling each of the world's ills in afterschool-special fashion, I'll bet there was one.
And that it wouldn't have done a thing to help Tony.
Eric's brand of magical thinking is, not unnaturally, of the faith-based sort.
Which means that by even questioning some of his conclusions, I'm probably headed in the same direction as Tony Soprano.
Still, when Eric awakens in Sunday's episode - after a very un-Tony-like dream - feeling so good he decides to go immediately to a hospital, I couldn't help wondering what kind of health insurance he has.
I don't look to "7th Heaven" for "House"-like medical detail, but if there's any overlap, however small, between fans of Fox's cynical diagnostician and viewers of what may be TV's least believable family drama ever, I want to believe they'll be hearing Hugh Laurie's voice on Sunday.
Whispering, "Everybody lies."
I know a number of people who watch "7th Heaven" in the same spirit that fuels gaper delay. But as a fan of family drama, I once had higher hopes for it.
There's certainly nothing wrong with a show that doesn't assume, in "One Tree Hill" fashion, that all teenagers are having sex all the time. (See NBC's "Friday Night Lights" for a more realistic take on the range of adolescent experience.)
But there's plenty wrong with one that tries to keep younger viewers' interest by pushing its virginal characters into seeking too-early engagements and marriages. Seventeen-year-old Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman), in a plot line that's just plain creepy, seems currently to be constructing castles in the sky with a boyfriend whose voice probably only changed a week or two ago.
Meanwhile, on "The Sopranos," poor A.J. (Robert Iler) is trying to get a woman 10 years his senior to marry him, so far without success.
It's Tony's future, though, that most concerns "Sopranos" fans, some of whom are becoming restless as creator David Chase and company lay the groundwork for what feels like one of those red-herring mysteries.
We have a growing list of potential suspects. Will we ever get a body? *
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