As The Sopranos's strong-minded yet eternally conflicted mafia wife, Edie Falco has turned a blind eye to her share of shady goings-on. But even she can't ignore some of the hits the HBO drama series has taken during its just-concluded third season.

First, there were the protests from angry Italian-American groups. Then came the uproar over the show's violent streak against women. And most recently, critics were shooting their mouths off about the lackluster season finale. "Anything that gets a lot of attention is going to take heat, and it's going to get praised and everybody's got to have something to say about it," Falco reasons to TV Guide Online. "And I respect that."

Regarding The Sopranos's particularly cruel treatment toward females of late (the show's rap sheet includes the beating death of a pregnant stripper and the brutal rape of Lorraine Bracco's shrink character), Falco admits the sequences were "hard to watch," but adds that "it's important to know that these guys on the show are charming and clever and all that, but they are not good guys. They really do bad stuff."

Fans may include in that group Sopranos creator David Chase, whose decision to delay the debut of Season Four until April 2002 has met with universal groans. Even Falco — who will take to the London stage in The Vagina Monologues from June 18 to July 1 — concedes, "I'd rather be shooting right now."

Something else Falco would do if she had her druthers is stop The Sopranos from getting whacked off the TV landscape at the end of next season, which is when Chase is thinking of calling it quits. "That was the answer for a long time, but then I heard a rumor that we might do another one," Falco reveals. "I would do it forever. I have never had such a good time in my life. Unless, all of a sudden, it got really crappy — the show and the experience — which I don't foresee happening."

Well, then how does the actress explain last month's disappointing season-ender — which was about as lively as Big Pussy's rotting corpse? "That's what I love about David Chase: He's writing for himself," she says. "He has the hardest set of criteria: He [aims] to please himself. I'm sure he knew that people were expecting lots of killings, but he writes what he wants to write and I think that's why the show does as well as it does."

Despite all the hissing, few would argue that The Sopranos remains one of TV's finest hours — a fact that will no doubt be verified next month when Emmy nominations are announced. For her part, Falco — who in 1999 picked up a gold statue for her Carmela duties — hopes the Academy spreads the wealth to some of her underrated co-stars, like "Dominic Chianese, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, my kids [Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler]... so many people should be recognized that haven't been."

"But you know what?" she adds, "Who cares. I love the show, people love the show, and you can't ask for much more than that."