“Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” Review
“I’ll Be Watching You”
“Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” is my favorite Sopranos season premiere. Rich in detail, extremely well-acted, symbolic of the show itself … and completely inconsequential. It’s a one-off that one-ups the other one-offs, a standalone that stands alone from other standstills.
It’s a farce, a caper, a comedy classic. The Sopranos themselves aren’t even featured right away. It’s an outsider’s perspective told from the FBI insiders’ point-of-view. Tony steps out of the limelight, so Federal Agent Harris and co. can steal the spotlight — figuring out how to spy on Tony via lamplight.
Enough with the wordplay. This is supposed to be serious, right? I’d compare the artistic thrust of “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” to an introductory vignette in a film or an epigraph in a book. It encapsulates the entire scope of season three without appearing to say much at all.
In other words, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” is a fun time for all, plain and simple.
In my review of “Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office,” I mentioned that a season premiere should, above all, feel welcoming. In Year Three, The Sopranos once again greets us with open arms.
The FBI views Tony with naiveté, as if he’s an untouchable gangster in a Howard Hawks film. In turn, they view themselves with extreme hubris, like G-men in a Superman cartoon. Agent Harris and crew cook up an elaborate scheme to plant a bug within the Soprano basement. It involves the painstaking recreation of a desk lamp, tirelessly following every member of the Soprano household (including the Norwegian housemaid) and precisely timing the whole operation down to the millisecond.
There’s plenty of humor in the episode, the biggest joke of all being that nothing much happens for the Sopranos. The FBI watches from afar as Tony meets with the fellas for lunch. Topics of conversation include identical twins, hot water heaters and the amount of bacteria at the end of a shoelace.
Maybe series creator David Chase wants to show us that these mobsters are more like ourselves than we realize. “Hey, he’s got the Black & Decker. I’ve got one of those!” an FBI agent says of Tony’s chainsaw.
The entire episode is told from the FBI’s point of view, making it the most uncharacteristic hour in Sopranos history. How is it so good then? Aside from being a funny lighthearted meta-narrative on what it’s like to watch The Sopranos, the episode also features some of the best musical cues in the series.
“Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” goes the extra mile with its soundtrack, with the finest remix in television history — a synchronized mash-up of the Peter Gunn theme and “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.
The two songs match up so perfectly that it’s amazing no one else discovered it first. The Sopranos uses the “new” song’s charisma to excellent effect, featuring several times throughout the episode. And each time is better than the last. Sometimes a TV episode will leave you in anticipation for a character’s next appearance; “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” has us anxiously awaiting a musical selection.
Closing with Elvis Costello’s “High Fidelity” is another musical high point, sending us out on a mocking high note. It’s a perfect valediction — the FBI listens in on Tony and Carmela discussing sweet nothings. The tapes roll and, as always with The Sopranos, life goes on.
“Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” serves as a perfect epilogue for the easygoing comedy of season two and a perfect prelude to the new era beginning in season three. It doesn’t dwell in the past, and it doesn’t hint at any future events to come. More than anything, it’s just good to be back.
- Part of this episode’s charm and re-watchability stems from the fact that there are multiple stories within stories. The new FBI characters don’t talk much, but there are subtle actions that suggest something deeper. For example, the woman assigned to spy on Meadow seems to be reminiscing about her college days. The same holds true for the man assigned to AJ, who watches thoughtfully as “Baby Bing” ditches class.
- More stories within stories: what’s going on with Jeannie Cusamano? She seems to be flirting with the federal agents who show up at her house, suggesting there’s more to her privileged middle-class lifestyle than she’s letting on.
- These types of stories are all over this episode. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but it seems that this episode makes no distinction between characters. We’re all players in someone else’s game. Even the self-important FBI men are cogs in the machine.
- Likewise, the title of the episode also plays into this theme — a humorous reminder that Tony isn’t at the center of the universe. In the self-contained world of local businesses (plumbers, for instance), it’s just ‘Mr. Ruggerio’s neighborhood.’ The titular plumber has his own life to live, with stories and experiences and history that is centered unto himself — totally unconcerned and unaware of the mafia world. The only time he comes into contact with the Sopranos is when he fixes their hot water heater.
- The FBI spies on the Sopranos and sees how “nothing happens.” However, the FBI’s main mission this episode seems like a whole lotta nothing as well. All this fuss is over a freakin’ lamp! Later on, two agents make an “executive decision” about moving a table two feet to the left.
- The end scene, too, shows how slow the justice system works. The FBI can only listen in to Tony’s conversations for 40 seconds before deciding if it’s pertinent or not, upon which case they can’t check back in for another two minutes. The likelihood of ever hearing something useful is close to 0%.
- More great music: Tony singing along to Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” while driving. Ironic because he doesn’t really do any “dirty work” this episode, a rarity.
- Patsy Parisi, identical twin of Philly “Spoons” Parisi, who was killed by Gigi Cestone in the season two premiere, is integrated into the main fold. He knows Tony ordered the hit but is forced to swallow his anger and become part of the crew.
- “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” was written by series creator David Chase and directed by Alan Coulter.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “I think at this point it’s time to consider 16, Bonpensiero, compost.”
- “Listen, I’ll save you some gas. I’m just going down to the stationery store and I’ll be right back. You don’t gotta follow me like yesterday, all right?”
- “The food tastes like ass anyways.”