Cellular machineries that drive and regulate gene expression often rely on the coordinated assembly and interaction of a multitude of proteins and RNA together called ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs). As such, it is challenging to fully reconstitute these cellular machines recombinantly and gain mechanistic understanding of how they operate and are regulated within the complex environment that is the cell. One strategy for overcoming this challenge is to perform single molecule fluorescence microscopy studies within crude or recombinantly supplemented cell extracts. This strategy enables elucidation of the interaction and kinetic behavior of specific fluorescently labeled biomolecules within RNPs under conditions that approximate native cellular environments. In this review, we describe single molecule fluorescence microcopy approaches that dissect RNP-driven processes within cellular extracts, highlighting general strategies used in these methods. We further survey biological advances in the areas of pre-mRNA splicing and transcription regulation that have been facilitated through this approach. Finally, we conclude with a summary of practical considerations for the implementation of the featured approaches to facilitate their broader future implementation in dissecting the mechanisms of RNP-driven cellular processes. This article is categorized under: RNA Structure and Dynamics > RNA Structure, Dynamics and Chemistry RNA Interactions with Proteins and Other Molecules > RNA-Protein Complexes RNA Structure and Dynamics > Influence of RNA Structure in Biological Systems.