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Northern Exposure Review

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by AVForums Feb 1, 2006

    For those dedicated enough to persevere through the weekly showings of Northern Exposure at some unholy hour in the morning back in the mid-nineties, this release from Universal of the third (and arguably the finest) series from creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey will represent a warm trip down a nostalgic memory lane. Only this time there's no need to place matchsticks in your eyes to get through an episode. Coming back to the show after so long away, I wondered if it would still carry the same kick as it did back then. I'm pleased to report that the sands have time have done nothing to diminish Northern Exposure. The series is still as engaging, funny, and downright enjoyable as it was a decade ago. For those not familiar, the show centred around the small Alaskan town of Cicely and followed the fortunes of graduate doctor Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), setting up practice straight from the big city. Over the course of the show we meet and follow the adventures of the somewhat eccentric residents of the town, whose numbers include an ex NASA astronaut, an airplane-flying feminist with a string of dead boyfriends, and a bar-owning odd-couple of a man in his sixties and a docile youthful heavy metal fan. Season three of the show represented the programmes first outing as a true full length series, with a grand total of 23 episodes (Season's one and two totalled just 15 between them). Whilst lesser shows may have been hamstrung by the greater length and resorted to watering down the quality and interest, Northern Exposure grew from strength to strength. Such was the nature of the show, quirky and keenly observed, that the extra episodes afforded a far greater scope and range to explore each wonderfully judged character and situation in far greater detail. Its set up is equally impressive, with each episode working equally as well as a single tale as it does a stepping stone in the wider overall story arc of Cicely, Alaska. Each character is given room to breathe and develop, and the quality of the writing is so uniformly strong that there is great material in all the inhabitants of the town. Unlike many projects shaped for TV, Northern Exposure worked because it never patronised its audience. Where it would have been easy to take a more commercial and simplified approach to things, the series always thought and talked with a refreshing intellectual bent. The scripting and development was sharp and wide ranging, which lent the show an endearing and invigorating quality many shows strive for and fail to achieve. It's difficult to describe Northern Exposure to someone not already familiar with its many charms. It's unconventional and downright oddball representation of small-town life brings to mind the lighter moments David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and yet is somehow grounded in a grass roots homeliness that Peaks never ventured in. Although in many ways it really is the definition of cult viewing, by the same token it's hard to imagine how you couldn't find yourself charmed by this series. If it lacks anything, perhaps it doesn't hold the attention and anticipation the way, for example, a Shield does. It's so laid back and casual that to many it won't become the essential viewing that many TV shows have grow to be. For those that have the patience to become engrossed in the subtle idiosyncrasities of the series however, it proves itself to be an addictive, if delicate little gem of a show.