The Sopranos S3E1: “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood”

Directed by Alan Coulter   |   Written by David Chase   |   49 min    

I’ll be watching you

By Colin Hart

9.2 / 10

“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 komedy klassik.  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 the entire The Sopranos season three without appearing to say much at all.

It’s like the apes in 2001 or the Gospel quote before The Brothers Karamazov, though I wouldn’t go that far.  More comparable, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” is as effective as the epigraph in Talladega Nights:

America was built on speed.  Hot, nasty, badass speed.’ — Eleanor Roosevelt.

In other words, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” is just a fun time.

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I said in my review of season two’s first episode that a premiere should, above all, feel welcoming.  In Year Three, The Sopranos greets us with open arms.

The FBI views Tony with naiveté, as if he’s an untouchable gangster in a Howard Hawks movie, while viewing themselves with hubris, like G-men in a Superman cartoon.  Agent Harris and crew cook up an elaborate scheme to plant a bug within the Soprano household.  It involves the painstaking recreation of a lamp, tailing every member of the Soprano household (including the Norwegian maid) and precisely timing the whole operation down to the millisecond.

There’s plenty of humor in this episode, the biggest joke of all being that for the Sopranos, nuthin’ happens.  The FBI keeps watch from afar as Tony meets with the fellas for lunch, discussing identical twins and other unimportant topics.

Maybe Sopranos 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 agent says of Tony’s chainsaw.

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How much can music influence the greatness of a TV episode? “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” goes the extra mile with its soundtrack, with the finest remix in television history — an excellent synchronized mash-up between 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.

I can’t say enough about how perfect the Peter Gunn/Police mash-up is.  It really steals the show.  Tony, Carmela, Meadow and AJ are busy doing normal “day in the life” shit.  It’s great to finally see them again, no matter what they’re doing (or not doing), but the music propels the (lack of) action until it becomes its own character — a part of the bifurcated New Jersey-to-D.C. setting.

Closing with Elvis Costello’s “High Fidelity” is another musical high point, sending us out on a mocking high note.  It’s perfect.  The FBI listens in as Tony and Carmela discuss sweet nothings — treadmills and stationary bikes.  The tapes roll, and, as always with The Sopranos, life goes on.

Season three, it’s good to be back.

STRAY ROUNDS

-Part of this episode’s charm and rewatchability stems from the fact that there are stories within stories.  There are several new, unfamiliar federal agents that we deal with.  They don’t talk much, but there are several subtle actions that suggest something deeper.  The woman assigned to spy on Meadow seems to be reliving 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? Is she 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 subtle stories behind the stories are all over this episode.  Maybe they’re not even there and 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.

-The FBI spies on the Sopranos and sees how “nuthin’ happens.” (Just like season two!) However, the FBI’s main mission this episode seems like a whole lotta nuthin, too.  All this fuss is over a freakin’ lamp.  Later on, two agents make an “executive decision” about moving the table two feet.

-The end scene, too, shows how slow the justice system works.  They 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 voyeurism theme caters to the fact that, yes, we are watching a TV show.  The FBI should have real fun watching Tony doing nothin’.  We’ve seen “House Arrest” and how these guys turn nothing into an art form.

-More great music: Tony singing along to Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” while driving.  He doesn’t really do any “dirty work” this episode, a rarity.

The food tastes like ass anyways.

Hey, he’s got the Black & Decker.  I’ve got one of those!

You’re making an executive decision.

 

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