Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood: Won’t you bug my neighbour?

Welcome to Mr. Ruggerio’s neighbourhood! Not to be confused with Adamo Ruggiero’s Degrassi neighbourhood.

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Mambo Italiano.

The third season starts off with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a few laughs. Chase takes a light-hearted approach to the premiere, after slamming us with the surreal and sad  second season finale that was “Funhouse.” The previous season opened with the comically titled, “Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…”, a reference to Tony’s return to therapy. “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood” is an obvious riff on Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, although I’m not sure why the title puts the spotlight on Tony’s plumber, other than the sheer fact that it is punnier than “Mr. Soprano’s Neighbourhood.”

References to The Godfather I and II immediately loom large. The agents sit in front of the flow chart drawn up in “Pax Soprana” (a favourite), after Junior’s promotion to boss is secretly snapped by photographers disguised as waiters. The agents do one better and also re-create the hierarchy on a chalkboard, just in case.

These guys even look alike, right down to the expression…

Picking up the driveway daily, Tony, like Michael Corleone, reads a headline that refers to him.

It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think that the article about Vito is fully drawn up. It looks like a mock-up with intentionally blurry filler text. The Star-Ledger in Sopranos Land, however, boasts a full article, complete with quotes from concerned residents. Someone crafted a believable report, even going so far as to name names! Sam Lieberman, one such  resident (apparently not so concerned as to remain anonymous. Watch yer hubcaps), and NJPD Detective F (can’t make out the full name – The Elusive Mr F!) all speak to reporter Bob Shaw, who takes his name from the show’s production designer. Is this show brilliant, or is it brilliant?

Tony’s first scene with dialogue is pure Gandolfini. He had such a natural way about him. It helps that he does not yet have the t’ick Jershee acshent that became his character’s imitable hallmark. If you’ve seen paparazzi footage of James, you’ll notice that he barely seems to be playing a part here, yet he never loses the ability to disappear completely into the role.

Edie Falco once remarked, “He was just Tony – fully inhabiting the part of this man I was married to. And it was thrilling. Usually, if you look deep enough when you’re doing a scene with somebody, you can see the actor, and I never saw anybody but Tony. Never.”

This is how I’ve always felt about him. The only times he’s distinguishable from Tony is when he has a beard. Even when he was walking around the city as himself, with a camera in his face, relieved of any vestiges of New Jersey, he was still Tony Soprano.

A jazzy instrumental, identified by the closed-caption as The Peter Gunn theme, plays over quick cuts of code-named family Bing going to and from various locations. (Seriously, Bing? Not something more discreet?) Peter Gunn was a show about a smartly-dressed P.I., that ran from 1958-1961. I had never heard of it before, and Wikipedia notes that it is a remembered mostly for its music. Our beloved I Soprano has also been lauded for its soundtrack; ask any fan what they loved most about the show, and one of the answers will probably be, “the music.”

Composed by Henry Mancini, the theme has been covered by  everyone from Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, to Aretha Franklin. The brassier version on the Porky’s Revenge! soundtrack is by Clarence Clemons, Stevie Van Zandt’s fellow E Street bandmate. RIP.

Some promotional images for Gunn show a stylized G in the shape of a gun, 40 years before the famous R gun appeared in the Sopranos logo. Probably a fun coincidence!

Operation Bug The Bings is underway. Wearing a sun visor, diamond earrings, and a sporty button-down, it’s almost as if Carmela dressed for the occasion. This is exactly what you’d expect someone with leisure time to spare to wear when being surveilled. Not too flashy, but not so casual that you’d mistake her for a working stiff.

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~*sO 90S*~

As the vans roll toward the house, the theme easily segues into “Every Breath You Take,” before blending with the Gunn theme. This catchy little mash-up was the brainchild of music editor, Kathryn Dayak.

Inside the real Bing, Paulie picks lunchtime to talk about that awful way your shoelaces sometimes drag in the water on the bathroom floor. He goes into great detail about the migratory pattern of germs, our first introduction to his germophobia. Sil hunches over his dish, turning several shades of green.”C’mon, will ya?” protests Hesh. Paulie snaps back, “He’s askin’ me, I’m tellin’ him!” Might I suggest slip-ons?

When Tony enters, Patsy returns Carmela’s sable coat, noting the alterations he had made. “It shouldn’t have torn like that,” he says apologetically. Considering how it was torn, I don’t think that either of them minded.

Picking at his food, Patsy opens up about the loss of his twin brother, Philly. It’s their 51st birthday, and Patsy’s first one alone. He has no idea that he’s breaking bread with the men who had him killed. Tony all but kicks him under the table trying to change the subject. Can we go back to toilet water and shoe laces?

Gigi, who shot him on Tony’s orders, shrugs callously. “It’s the life we chose, right?”

This caught my attention. He says it to shift blame, possibly to alleviate guilt, and definitely to alleviate suspicion, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk so far about choosing to be in the mafia. Walking away from the life is next to impossible, and so far, the only one who has spoken about choosing their connection is Carmela to Father Phil. Okay, Tony too, when he reminds a wet and whiny Christopher that he “chose this life” in” College.” Thanks, google! But as far as hearing it from someone in a serious way, those moments have been few and far between.

Patsy says he misses Philly. Trying to stay patient, Tony abruptly replies, “Well, that’s natural.” He says almost the same thing to Carm in  “Kennedy and Heidi” after she admits that she was relieved that it was Chris and not Tony who died. Both deaths are his fault, and he doesn’t like being reminded of the fact. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

I notice that Tony likes to avoid conflict while eating; see countless strained dinners with Livia, and how he handled Meadow’s sly lecture on the Five Families in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” Probably because he’d get acida, then he’d really be pissed.

I laughed at the way they all gesture and grumble in unison when Patsy says he would have preferred to die the way some twins do, within hours of each other. “Ehh, c’mon!” Enough with this talk, stronzo. You’re disrespecting The Bing.

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Way to go, Christafuh.

In case you were wondering, Carm’s tennis visor isn’t just for show. It’s time for her weekly lesson with Ed Restuccia, a good Italian boy who is interested in other rackets. It sounds like Carm wants to set him up with Ade, but then she finds out that his wife (“I didn’t even know you were married!”) got a new job, so they’re moving to California. But it’s okay, Birgit is going to take over for him!

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WOMEN, AMIRITE???

Carmela takes Christ to the courts. That thick golden crucifix goes everywhere, and good thing, because she’ll need it to ward off The Evil Lesbian. Ade doesn’t seem to mind Birgit’s sudden shine to her, but Carmela thinks she’s just a little too friendly. For me, Carmela’s homophobia comes a little out of left field. Even with her strong (or situational, depending on whom you ask) Roman Catholic background, I figured she would be the liberal one. She’s so good at looking the other way when it comes to  other, greater moral transgressions, I don’t know why she couldn’t just let this one slide.

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That’s lesbian activity.
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Tonight on The Office, Carmela Soprano.

You want inappropriate conduct? Listen to the bullshit coming out of the mouths of the G-Men with binoculars. If you only knew, C.

Ed has burned her, so she burns him back. Oh, your wife is a dot-com antiques dealer?

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Oh Ed, ya big lug!

But you have a couple thou in the bird feeder! Doesn’t get any more traditional than that.

With The Sausage Factory, aka Casa Soprano, empty, the FBI moves in to plant their recorders, sift through the mail, and check the expiry dates in the fridge. Safety first!

They set their sights on the desk lamp in the basement. This was pretty cool, watching them bug an exact replicate recreated in painstaking detail, right down to the last scratch. I feel like I’m watching Fight The Future with the establishing shot of Quantico. Scullayyyyy!

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It’s shedding light on things, geddit?

What the fuck, AJ’s drinking Snapple.

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Don’t backwash!

I TOLD YOU THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT MAFIA DUDES AND APPLE JUICE.

Meadow’s dorm room is classic. Touch tone phone with a cord, an NSYNC poster, and a pizza box on the dresser.

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Where can I find that cloud blanket?

I like the juxtaposition of the agent listening at the door as the FBI bug Meadow’s house, half an hour away, while she talks about being homesick. The lamp on the desk behind Caitlin will factor in later. You’ll notice her side of the room is covered in posters for Absolut Vodka, providing the perfect backdrop for her drunken Liza tribute.

This is the one with “that cookie shit“! Ah, the days before private browsing.

Did you cry at Carmela collecting the tennis balls? I did. Such a menial task, by her standards. Add to that that she has been ordered by A Lesbian, while her sweet, straight, cinnamon roll of a friend is being given the very hands-on lesson that she misses from Ed. It’s practically public humiliation.ball collector

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Lesbian request denied.

SHE IS SO ANGRY. That is a white suburban mom face if ever I saw one.  All that’s missing is the “I want to speak to the manager” haircut. Cut to a shot where we hear their maid, Liliana, panicking inside the house, establishing a connection between the demoted Carmela and her “hired help.” Although Liliana has not been on the receiving end of it, Carmela has  previously summoned her first housekeeper with a flick of her long nails, a not-so-subtle reminder to everyone that she will never have dishpan hands. Tony is not the only one who likes to assert his dominance. Out of insecurity, Carmela does, too, by making sure that nobody forgets their place inside her home.

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STOP IT.

Question: Where did Oona, their first housekeeper, go? Did they dismiss her after the indictments in the first season?  Unless they let her go with a nice sum of hush money, it would make more sense to keep anyone who could answer questions about their house close by.

In Denial, Anger, Acceptance,” Carmela beckons to Charmaine in the same manner. Understandably offended, Charmaine retaliates by letting her in on a little secret about Tony’s past.

I’m a big fan of  Uncle’s John’s Bathroom Readers. One of my favourite articles was a collection of different rules from old etiquette guides, with one entry about farting dating back to the 16th century! A rule from the mid-1800s reminds people that how you speak to your servants reflects upon you. Addressing them with condescension, especially in front of your guests, is a tell-tale sign that you were once where they were, and are “putting on airs at the thought of your own promotion.”

This fits her to a, um, T. Class-conscious Carmela knows that she might be in very different position had she married someone else. She resents not merely the fact that Charmaine and Tony slept together in high school, but that Charmaine and Artie are legitimate earners. They built up and have so far maintained, the family-owned Vesuvio without the help of the “blood money” that allows the unemployed Carmela her lavish lifestyle. Even if she will never know how often Charmaine discourages her husband from getting in too thick with Tony and his friends, she is, at least, aware that they will never have to live with the permanent stain of being married to the mob, a stain that she fears may earmark her for eternal damnation.

“I have forsaken what is right for what is easy. Allowing what I know is evil in my house. Allowing my children–Oh my God, my sweet children– to be a part of it because I wanted things for them: a better life, good schools. I wanted this house. I wanted money in my hands, money to buy anything I ever wanted. I’m ashamed. My husband, I think he has committed horrible acts. I think he has… you know all about him, Father Phil. I’m the same. I’ve said nothing. I’ve done nothing about it. I’ve got a bad feeling. It’s just a matter of time before God compensates me with outrage for my sins…” – Carmela Soprano, in College

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Her face. I die. Give her all the awards.

The Police start up again (THE POLICE ARE PLAYING AS THE FBI WATCH THEM. YO DAWG, I HEARD YOU LIKED LAW ENFORCEMENT), joined by Peter Gunn. Carmela heads back to base, and the feds make their escape. They find out later that Liliana was yelling about the water heater. Bye-bye, Black and Decker! Six months on the thing? Not even six days. Our white collar boys are baffled. They can’t even make the connection between their prediction and the plumber’s truck that they saw at the house.

I’m just going to praise the level of detail on this show again. Wading through the flooded basement, Tony grabs a box of old photos at Carmela’s behest. “The prom!” he cries. A black and white picture floats by, and lo and behold, it is actually a picture of them. The prop department took the time to photoshop a believable picture of Edie and James as seventeen-year-old Tony Soprano and Carmela DeAngelis.

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KEEP LOOKING AT IT

Carm and Ade look like they stepped out of the sports section of a 90s Sears Catalogue, not like they’d shop there. I didn’t say I hated it.

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Tennis, anyone?

Jeannie Cusamano almost spills the beans. When the feds in disguise knock, she answers the door in a casual, colour-coordinated outfit that would look right at home on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond.

In classic sitcom fashion, Jeannie leans in like Gladys Kravitz to discourage them from going over there themselves. “They’re in the ma–”

The agents look at her, feigning disbelief. “Pardon?”

Money! In the money. Rich, rich people.

Jeannie recovers. “Nothing. They’re different. For this neighbourhood, they’re a little different, that’s all.”

Sopranos Autopsy already touched on the significance of Jeannie’s role, and how she is the perfect surrogate for the audience… But I wonder if she still has that box of sand?

I didn’t think I would have so much to say about this one. It was a pretty anti-climactic opener. This is not to say that it didn’t have its suspenseful moments. The whole time, I was nervous about the timing falling to shit, and the tap operation being discovered. All it takes is a clear traffic forecast, and you’re home with time to spare. If someone is in the middle of bugging your house, it’s bad news for them.

Stylistically, it deviated a little from the typical Sopranos episode. Parts of it were purposely campy, perhaps as an homage to the original plan of making it a comedy, a la The Simpsons. After the darker episodes that book-ended the previous season, a little levity was in order. “Every Breath You Take” while everyone, feds and viewers alike, watch? Cheeky bastards!

This is the first, and maybe only, episode that I can think of that uses full fades between scenes. Instead of the usual straight or contrast cut to the next scene, they go completely black to indicate a new day. They’re a step away from using the intertitle.

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C’mon, make some mob stuff happen.

I LOVE THE ENDING. The agents take the legally required time-out from their listening session. When they tune in again, Tony is telling Carmela about his own indoor plumbing, and complaining about having something stuck in his teeth for two days. Carmela tells him he needs to eat more fiber, and floss regularly. What is it with us and food in our teeth? If you’re ever around my mom, don’t suck your teeth to remove food: It’s a purported Italian habit that drives her up the wall and around the corner. Help yourself to a toothpick.

I can picture him lying in bed later that night, working loudly on a stubborn piece of gabagool. From behind the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha, Carmela pipes up, “Do ya have to do that, Tony?”

“You want it to stay in there, whatever it is, and rot my teeth? I’ll need a fuckin’ root canal.”

“That’s not how it works. And we have insurance.”

“It’s all being spent on replacing the cocksuckin’ heater and everything in the basement!”

She shrugs, eyes never leaving the page. “AJ got you that nice electric tooth brush for Christmas.”

Tony grunts in reply. He rolls over to snap on the television, where he sees an ad for denture cream.

Yeah, I just wrote Sopranos fanfic lite. That means we’re done here.

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No respect.
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