Title: Grosse Pointe, 48230
Written by: Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess
Directed by: Michael Katleman
Aired: February 1, 1993
Log line: Maggie bribes Joel into accompanying her to her grandmother’s birthday party in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.
On our podcast discussion of this episode, we talked about a lot of its themes, including family, the past, death, secrets, and class. We also mentioned that it’s the first Northern Exposure episode that only features two of the show’s recurring characters (Maggie and Joel), and it takes place almost entirely away from Cicely (aside from the first two scenes). Even “The Three Amigos” (3.16), which was also written by Green and Burgess, returns to Cicely for other storylines and ends after Holling and Maurice have come back to town. (It also featured KBHR narration of The Call of the Wild by Chris during the scenes taking place outside of Cicely.)
One thing we didn’t discuss about “Grosse Pointe, 48230” is the prevalence of food and drink in this episode. In the previous episode “Duets” (4.13), One-Who-Waits told Ed to invite his father to dinner because “good food ends with good talk.” He continues, “Since the beginning of time, it’s always been that way with human beings. Ancient legends are told, marriage is proposed, hunts are planned.” In “Grosse Pointe”, both food and drink reveal quite a bit about the relationships between characters, as we’ll try to show in this blog post.
The episode begins with Maggie trying to convince Joel to come to Michigan to attend her grandmother’s eightieth birthday. Her opening gambit is an all-expenses paid trip. No dice. Then, she tries to sweeten the offer by mentioning food. (Interestingly, she implies that Joel is really into Middle Eastern cuisine.)
Once they arrive at Chez O’Connell in Michigan, we learn that Grammy won’t come out of the bathroom. When she first talks about why she won’t come down, she mentions food. Here, she might be suggesting that she’s tired of the same old same old and wants to break with tradition. (We can’t help but be reminded of the bottle of lilac water she finds, wondering “Who uses it anymore?”)
Shortly after this scene, her daughter Jane tries to bluff her that she needs to come down right away because the ham is going to be on the table soon. Clearly, she doesn’t know that the ham seems to be a symbol for Grammy of a routine she’s become tired of.
Grammy calls Jane’s bluff, comments that this is the way Jane has been acting her whole life, and uses candied imagery to describe her daughter’s attitude. Maggie explains to her that it’s what’s called “passive aggressive” behaviour nowadays.
Much of the bonding that takes place between Maggie and Grammy involves drinking together. This is the closest enactment we see of One-Who-Waits’ statement that “good food ends with good talk.” Most of the other conversations between characters are quite awkward.
When Grammy asks to see Joel towards the end of the episode, she pours them each a glass of bourbon for their brief conversation.
Earlier, the only beverage we had seen Joel consume was cranberry juice, which was spilled on him. His non-alcoholic beverage is in stark contrast to the beer and bourbon (or scotch?) that Jed (aka the Jedster) drinks in quick succession. As soon as he arrives, Jed also immediately grabs a couple of devilled eggs from Stephie’s tray. He seems to be a man with a voracious appetite, and not only for food. He is a stockbroker who oversees a not-too-small operation and has a yacht called the Fortune Five (possibly because he aspires to run a Fortune 500 company?). His consumption of food, alcohol, and cigarettes seems to reveal his physical and monetary gluttony. Even when he’s leaving in an ambulance, he’s given a piece of cake for the road.
When characters are trying to calm themselves or others, they are typically offered or ask for a glass of water. Interestingly, both of these exchanges involve Stephie.
Jeffy appears to see Stephie’s role in the event as tending to the guests by serving food and drinks, while he socializes. He bemoans that she isn’t fixing the ice and filling people’s drinks.
Joel comments to Reverend Harding that “you people” (we’re taking this to mean WASPs like the folks who live in Grosse Pointe) seem to put mayonnaise on everything. We’ll later have a call back to this comment when Jeffy says that the reason his mom’s macaroni salad is so popular is the mayo.
As an aside, we like how Stephie’s remark about her brick-breaking body picks up on the imagery Joel used when he likened the usage of mayo to mortar.
One of the food-related moments we don’t see in this episode is the cutting and consumption of the birthday cake. Instead, we hear it referenced in passing by characters, mainly as “blowing out the candles.” Even at the end of the episode, we only hear “Happy Birthday” being sung, while we see a shot of the fireplace. We know that Joel and Jed both have plans for after the birthday cake is eaten: Joel is waiting to go to the Pistons-Knicks game and Jed had hoped to grab a drink with Maggie (and Joel).
Songs from the episode’s original airing:
The Temptations, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
Joel and Maggie arrive in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
[replaced in DVD version]
Themes / Recurrences: Family; the past; secrets; death.
The Good: We liked how differently structured this episode is. It was great to get to see Maggie’s family members in their natural environment, especially Grammy.
The Bad: We missed the rest of Cicely. Enough said.
The Notable: We noticed that Grammy’s clothes seem to match the decor in her bathroom.
On’s rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Shane’s rating: 9 out of 10.