Title: Little Italy
Written by: Stephen Cragg
Directed by: Jeff Melvoin
Aired: March 15, 1995
Log line: Everyone’s behaving badly when Phil gets in the middle of an Italian family feud, Ruth-Anne looks for another “quirky” resident tale for her radio show, and Holling punches a moose head in the middle of the bar.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
Northern Exposure is about a lot of things, but at its heart the show is really about community; we began with the story of a doctor from New York trying to find his place in an eccentric small town, and over the seasons we’ve seen characters struggle to find a place within their own communities. In episode 6.18 “Little Italy,” we learn of the existence of an Italian-American community comprising of four Italian families. Relative newcomer Phil Capra appears to finally have found his roots and place in Cicely, and with it, old world feuds emerge.
The episode is all about inclusion vs. exclusion, who’s in the know vs. who isn’t. The most obvious instance of this is the Italian restaurant “Stella Del Nord” (Northern Star), when Maurice tries his best to keep the existence of the restaurant a secret. This carries on to the scene at the restaurant itself, with the figure of the host who is the gatekeeper to Italian cuisine. After finding out that Phil’s ancestors are from the same region as the Grippos, Phil is in; however, he becomes part of the mechanism that keeps the Cusomanos on the outside of the community.
Similarly, when Ruth-Anne finds fame in the NPR radio series “Tales of Cicely,” she becomes the gatekeeper to fame and fortune, and finds herself being the subject of a charm offensive from the likes of Maggie and other residents who want their stories to be included. Maurice wants to capitalize on the fame of the series, urging her to sell merchandise of the show. Of course, by airing stories from Cicely, Ruth Anne is inviting the entire public into their small community.
Likewise, when the Feast of San Giuseppe actually takes place, it is the Italian community that reaches out to the wider community and lets others in.
The third storyline of Shelly and Holling does not exactly fit into the belonging theme of the other two stories, but it seems to us the most interesting story of the ones featured in the episode, because it deals with the relationship between Holling and Shelly. Over the years, we’ve seen their relationship evolve; Shelly was a very young woman when she becomes involved with Holling, and we have seen her grow stronger as a person. It has become clear who holds the power in their relationship. We’ve seen Holling reluctant to speak up for himself when Shelly redecorates their home entirely in pink. We’ve seen how passive-aggressive Holling can be with Shelly, for example how he sabotages their chances of buying a home instead of directly talking to Shelly about his reluctance to become a homeowner.
This episode is interesting because all of the repressed anger and frustration at Shelly comes to a head, and with the help of Mayor Maggie, Holling is able to detail the instances of disappointment and annoyance at Shelly’s behaviour as Shelly is urged to listen and apologize. What makes this story work so well is the history of their relationship, and the fact that we’ve gotten to know both characters so well. (Although we admit that Shelly’s treatment of Holling has a nasty edge which is not very characteristic of Shelly.)
The Good – We liked Shelly/Holling storyline, and the marriage counselling session at Maggie’s theatre was particularly hilarious. Popcorn might be a pretty good accompaniment to serious relationship talk. We also loved Ruth-Anne’s struggle of the “sophomore slump” – we’ve seen Ruth-Anne counsel Ed so many times that it’s pretty refreshing to see the opposite (plus, Ed has some pretty good creative advice here).
The Bad – It was weird that the Italian-American community came out of nowhere. We were introduced to several new characters and it was difficult to actually care about them because we did not know who they were.
The Notable – Where was the Italian community when Ruth-Anne was trying to learn Italian, I wonder? And isn’t Shelly a part of that community, since she is fluent in Italian?
On’s ratings: 7.0 out of 10
Shane’s ratings: 7.0 out of 10