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Keynote Song; Joel Versus the WASPs
Jabbah1515's "review" more properly belongs on the Northern Exposure discussion boards as it is not a review of this episode but a question for discussion. The song that Jabbah1515 refers to plays during the montage of the Detroit area near the start of "Grosse Pointe, 48230," and it certainly has a Motown-like sound to it. The male lead singer's falsetto is naggingly familiar, and his call-and-response with the female backing chorus reminds me of Marvin Gaye's version of "I Heard It through the Grapevine." However, that song plays on the DVD version of the episode. It was NOT the song that was heard during the original broadcast of this episode and during various syndicated television repeats. That song was the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." The song on the DVD version is quite likely a Motown knockoff used as a substitute to limit the music licensing fees for the DVD releases (although there are no other "name" songs used on the soundtrack for this episode).
Considering that Maggie (Janine Turner) has to bribe Joel (Rob Morrow) with prime Pistons-Knicks tickets to persuade him to accompany her back to Grosse Pointe for her Grammy's 80th birthday, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" is quite appropriate*. "Grosse Pointe, 48230" is a key milestone in Joel and Maggie's relationship: Although Joel had met Maggie's mother Jane and father Frank when both visited Cicely (separately), here he has the opportunity to see first-hand the environment in which Maggie developed. Grosse Pointe is an enclave of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) privilege, and Joel is immersed in it right away. When they arrive at Maggie's house, they find that Grammy (Barbara Townsend) has locked herself in the upstairs bathroom, refusing to come out or let anyone, particularly Maggie's mother Jane (Bibi Besch), in except Maggie.
So, as Maggie sits with Grammy, drinking, smoking, and talking about Maggie's boyfriends, sex, and Grammy's life, Joel must fend for himself among the waiting guests. There is Jeffy (Dylan Baker), Maggie's go-getter yuppie brother; Steffie (Lisa Waltz), Jeffy's quietly distraught wife who spills her secret to Joel and to young Reverend Harding (James Marsters, best-known for playing Spike on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), who lacks the people skills needed for his profession; and Jed (D. David Morin), Jeffy's stockbroker pal and Maggie's old flame whose challenging Joel to a game of one-on-one basketball causes him to foul out in an unexpected manner.
Slyly, writers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess keep Joel and Maggie separated, allowing Joel to absorb the posh suburban attitudes that inform Maggie's personality but that prompted her to start a new life in Alaska. As Jeffy sums it up, "It's time that little Mary Margaret turned in her backpack and her Eurorail pass and took her place in the car pool." Green's and Burgess's dialog flirts with caricature but doesn't quite cross the line into parody; meanwhile, they manage to deliver a number of piquant observations about white, upper-middle-class life without speechifying. Townsend turns in the best guest performance, not surprising because she gets ample screen time, but all the guest stars get their moments, with Waltz, her character rooted in melodrama, keeping a seriocomic balance.
Unusual in that Morrow and Turner are the only Northern Exposure regulars to appear in the episode, "Grosse Pointe, 48230" is a refreshing break from Cicely while it advances the Joel-Maggie storyline significantly--and it allows Joel to experience the WASPs first-hand.
* While "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" is a fine choice, given that the episode does deal exclusively with a privileged white suburban background, Michigander Bob Seger's "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)" would have been an equally appropriate song choice.