The Good: Moments of humor, Very few moments of character
The Bad: Moments of predictability, Nothing stellar on the acting front, Light on character
The Basics: Terribly disappointing, "The Big Feast" starts with a contrived plot, fails to add character development and is performed blandly by the entire cast.
As I reach the final individual episode of Northern Exposure on VHS for me to review, I have to say I am happy. Northern Exposure is a series that came to me highly rated and I have discovered it to be far more mediocre than extraordinary. Having watched the entire series (I'm on my second viewing of the final seasons for review), I find that it is hard to get excited about going through the later seasons and final individual episodes that are available when there are so many other, better products available for me to review.
With that, I find myself at "The Big Feast," a fourth season episode of Northern Exposure that even the die-hard fans would have to admit is predictable and more of a standard plot than a truly original episode of supposedly groundbreaking television that Northern Exposure claims to be. Instead of being intriguing or interesting, "The Big Feast" could have been written by a high school student and yielded pretty much the same results as we have on screen.
Maurice is in the mood to celebrate and he has chosen to honor the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnifield Communications. He decides to throw the biggest party Cicely has ever seen, a feat that is guaranteed to be quite extraordinary given the references to prior events. He sets to slaughtering a virtual herd of cows for a reduction sauce, imports some extraordinarily expensive bottles of wine and hires an army of chefs and servers. And everyone is invited . . .
. . . except Joel. Joel builds up his sense of outrage, resentfully confronting Maurice when the feast begins and Marilyn falls ill during the shellfish course. Shelly breaks a bottle of wine that costs more than she makes in three years and she struggles to replace it with something drinkable without Maurice knowing, and Adam returns to take over the kitchen as an imported French cook fails to meet Maurice's standards. In the course of his whining, Fleischman and Maggie are forced to deal with their feelings for one another, especially now that they have had sex.
"The Big Feast" has far too many obvious plot conceits to be considered truly original or even interesting. First, there is the Joel plotline. When Joel is excluded, his pride prevents him from confronting Maurice directly and the roundabout way he tries to find out if he was purposely excluded or omitted by accident is obvious and predictable. Moreover, that the missing invitation forces him to confront O'Connell is disappointing especially for Northern Exposure.
In a move that makes one think that the writers of the episode were thinking, "the audience thinks we're going to zig or zag or otherwise do something surprising, so let's surprise them by doing what everybody else who has ever had a television show has done!," Shelly knocks into a bottle of fabulously expensive wine moments after discovering how costly the bottle is. Naturally, this forces her into a wacky run-around trying to find a way to acquire it (Holling doesn't even have that much money), replace it (no one in town has a bottle of it) and ultimately, forge it. This overlaps well with the final plot conceit as Adam returns and he is known to be a connoisseur of fine things and - apparently - an enophile.
The problem with the plot peaks with the return of Adam. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Adam and actor Adam Arkin who portrays him. I am always delighted to see him. The thing is, whenever there are so many chefs in the kitchen and an event of such momentous proportions in Cicely, involving fine food and drink, the viewer comes to expect that Adam will pop up. This is especially insulting after the long-belabored string of chef's who come through the kitchen with impeccable credentials and . . . oh, no! It turns out they are completely bloody incompetent. Isn't it handy that Adam just happens to be in the area to save the day?!
Yes, "The Big Feast" could have been written by the most formulaic hacks in Hollywood and on the off chance that writers Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green are reading this - or director Rob Thompson - shame on you! Seriously, did you guys just open the "Classic Television Plots" book laying around the studio?!
The only thing more insulting than the standard and obvious plots in "The Big Feast" would have to be the character development. Joel's plotline is the closest the show comes to character development, but the sad thing is there is no real development. Joel runs around whining. Wow, what a surprise. It's what he does virtually every week! Joel feels legitimately hurt by being excluded and it's hard to blame him . . . save that every week he is an elitist who tries to be above everyone else in the Alaskan wilderness. So, it's not like Maurice would be unjustified in excluding the doctor.
No, Joel does not grow and learn a very valuable lesson in this episode. In fact, in the Joel plotline, it is Maggie who grows a bit and she realizes that how she has been treating Joel might well be unfair and wrong. Good for her . . . it only took three and a half years for her to get there. But, at least there is an epiphany to be had and the show takes the viewer there.
The Shelly plotline, the Adam plotline, even all of the time Maurice spends on screen, these elements involve nothing in the way of development or growth, they are simply the characters running around doing what they always do. This is disappointing and does not distinguish "The Big Feast" from any number of other episodes of Northern Exposure. This is a bit of a disappointment for anyone who wants to sit and watch a decent drama.
Equally pathetic is the acting. It seems the actors have the sensibility that they are doing something that is tried, true and has been done at least a thousand times before on television. None of the regulars sparkle and even Adam Arkin phones in his performance. There is not a single spark in this episode and none of the regulars seem at all enthusiastic about working this one.
Ultimately, "The Big Feast" is one of the more forgettable episodes of Northern Exposure and it is a true disappointment to the fans.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Northern Exposure - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the last worthwhile season by clicking here!
For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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