Screen Savors: Sopranos in the suburbs

The script's endearingly cheeky, mixing its satire of suburban life with Grade B mob movies.

sopranos 88 (photo credit: )
sopranos 88
(photo credit: )
Back in the old country, we loved living in the suburbs. It was so exhilarating to wake up in the morning to the smell of trees, cut grass, and the sound of the Neighborhood Watch committee gunning down the riffraff. Actually, our Neighborhood Watch in Queens didn't prevent us from getting shaken down by some kids for lunch money in high school, but that would never happen in the charming town of Little Stempington, home to YES Plus's over-the-top new series Suburban Shootout (Wednesday, 10 p.m.). In fact, it's that calm exterior that lures former London policeman Jeremy Hazeldine and his wife Joyce to their new home, where no sooner have they taken down the "For Sale" sign than one of their new neighbors, Pam, comes over to welcome them. Then there's another neighbor, Hilary, who upon bumping into Pam frowns and says: "Oh, Pam - what a nice surprise. I thought you had Weight Watchers on Tuesday morning." Meow. Welcome to Round 1 in the battle between two rival crews of local females who, it transpires, run the town and are vying for the rights to Joyce, the new recruit. From here on, all holds are barred. Heading upstairs as an excuse to get away from Joyce for a moment, Pam and Hilary are soon reenacting a scene from Kill Bill in one of the bedrooms, with Hillary warning Pam against "any of your crew even farting in the same room as Joyce." Still believing she's been greeted by a traditional welcome wagon , Joyce heads off with Hilary to visit the local knick-knack store, The Wicker Barn, along with Hilary's friends Camilla and Lillian, who're waiting outside in a typical suburban van. But before she even eyes a single place mat, the shocked Joyce has unwittingly blown up the place - a lesson from Camilla (the brilliant Anna Chancellor of Spooks) to the owners for missing a protection payment. Suddenly, Joyce's suburban retreat has become a battlefield, with often hysterical riffs on life in the sticks - an environment the newcomer finds is far more corrupt than the mean streets of London. Before long, she's encountered the other gang, this one run by Barbara (Felicity Montagu of Nighty Night), who fakes an ankle injury to get her to a Tupperware party from which Joyce eventually emerges with a rather unusual gift: a Beretta. It's Barbara who explains the rivalry between the gangs, telling Joyce that she and Camilla had once been fast friends who had decided that "the city of Little Stempington would not be the target of law-breaking, low-life scum." At first they simply woman-handled graffiti daubers, but somewhere along the line, Camilla "crossed over to the dark side, taking Hilary and Lillian with her," explains Barbara. That forced her to take action against her old friend because "Good can't live in the same town as Evil, Joyce." "I'm a housewife, not a hit man," explains Joyce, played by Amelia Bulmore with an amusing mix of initial shock and then gradual resignation. After all, her husband - totally unaware of what's happening - loves the place, especially the late-night hot-tub sessions with the neighbors. Joyce soon becomes one of Camilla's trusted operatives, while secretly spying on them for Barbara's gang. In one hysterical bit, she's assigned to deal with librarian Felicity Faversham - she of the "road kill hairdo," as Camilla explains. Felicity just isn't willing to go along with the gang's demands to raise the overdue fees on the books seniors take out, a percentage of which goes to Camilla's crew. Sent to make the librarian an offer she can't refuse, the innocent Joyce asks: "What if she doesn't do what I say?" Snaps Lillian: "Then shoot her in the tits." Joyce's overzealousness leads to the early expiration of the librarian, but with her husband heading up the local police force, she's able to wriggle out of trouble... for now. The script's endearingly cheeky, mixing its satire of suburban life with Grade B mob movies. One of our favorite bits was a pair of gardening shears that turned into two rifles. The only problem may be keeping the pace going, since once the conceit of suburbanites-turned-Sopranos sinks in, the momentum starts to fade. Still, catching a few episodes of the UK's Channel Five series certainly beats cutting the lawn or taking the kids to soccer practice.