After two very short introductory seasons of only seven or eight episodes
each, Northern Exposure finally earned a full season of episodes.
It was in the second season that Northern Exposure found its voice, but
the program really came to its own with the 23 episodes in the third season.
This is the year that the show really earned its place in TV history as
a unique, unusual, and truly great show. This season the program
really embraced and reveled in the off beat humor and oddly skewed stories
that would become the shows hallmark. This season was a popular and
critical success, garnering an impressive 16 Emmy nominations and winning
six including Outstanding Drama Series. Now this outstanding season
is available on DVD, and though it isn't a prefect presentation, it is
sure to please fans of the show and win over new converts.
Northern Exposure is a show unlike any other TV program.
It's a comedy-drama, but the comedy is very skewed, and the dramatic elements
are sometimes a little odd. The thing that makes it so unusual is
that the program consistently comes up with new and unusual storylines,
but it never becomes outrageously silly, something that would ruin the
dramatic aspects of the show.
In case you're not familiar with the show, the program is about Joel
Fleischman, a doctor who has agreed to practice medicine in Alaska for
a few years in exchange for his tuition to medical school. The thing
is, he was expecting to be assigned a position in a Nome or Fairbanks hospital.
Instead he is brought to Cicely, a small town of a few hundred people.
He never considered that he would be assigned to such a position, much
less one in such a remote location. He doesn't like the town, and
just wants to get back to his hometown of New York. The residents
of Cicely need him though, and he's legally obligated to stay, so stay
he does. Other residents include Maggie, a young and attractive small
plane pilot who has had her last five boyfriends die on her, Maurice Minnifield,
an ex-NASA astronaut who has big plans of making the town the next hot
vacation spot, Holling Vincoeur, owner of the local diner/bar, and Holling's
girlfriend who is forty years his junior, Shelly.
Odd situations crop up in Cicely, but the locals take everything in
stride. Joel, being an outsider, is the person that viewers can relate
to the most. He's the person who tries to tell everyone that Maggie
is crazy if she thinks a stray dog is her boyfriend reincarnated, and is
astounded when no one listens to him. He's the one who is amazed
when the local DJ causes women from miles around to flock to him, when
everyone else just thinks it's normal.
This season hits the ground running with The Bumpy Road to Love.
Maggie commissions a statue of her old boyfriend Rick who died at the end
of last season. During the unveiling, she discovers that he had another
woman on the side. Meanwhile Adam, the mysterious person who lives
in the forest and everyone believes is Bigfoot, kidnaps Joel to help his
wife, Eve (of course.) She's a hypochondriac and wants a live in
physician to help her through her imagined illnesses.
This episode is a good example of how the show had evolved from the
previous seasons. The most striking difference is that the show fully
embraced its continuity. The previous seasons had all contained stand-alone
episodes, and while that is true of this season too, events in one episode
will affect others. They include bit characters from the previous
shows, like Adam, and refer to things that had happened in the past.
This really helps the show and gives it a bigger feeling. It's no
longer just a series of single stories, but one story that is told over
the course of the season. Another reason I enjoyed it was that my
favorite bit character also returns in this show: Sergeant Barbara
Semanski, Maurice's love interest.
This season is filled with notable shows. There are many excellent
episodes, too many to list. One of my favorites is Animals R Us
where Maggie thinks that Rick has returned to her in the shape of a
dog, and Ed, the local film buff, works on a movie about the town.
I love it when Ed is in the general store discussing the relative merits
of Spike Lee and Ingmar Bergman, and the scene where Joel visits Ed and
discovers that he's pen pals with Matin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Steven
Spielberg is priceless.
The best show of the season has got to be the final one, Cicely.
In this program a 109-year-old man wanders into town and starts reminiscing
about the town's past. Told in a flashback where all the major characters
play their counterparts back in 1909, this tells the story of how two forward
thinking women turned Cicely into the "Paris of the North." This
episode ended up winning three Emmy awards and deserved them all.
A great way to end up the season.
This set of 23 hour-long (when commercials are added) episodes comes
on three double-sided discs (which are labeled correctly this time.)
There are four shows on each side with the exception of the last side which
has three shows and some bonus material. The discs come in slimpack
cases which are housed in a green slipcase. This slipcase is not
labeled on the spine which is very unfortunate. It is hard to read
the very small type face on the spines of the slimpacks when they are face
out, but a blank green spine doesn't identify the show. Another unfortunately
omission is that they did not encase this season in a mini-parka like the
two previous seasons. I know some people didn't like them, but I
really dislike it when they change packing designs part way through a series.
The Northern Exposure Season
Three web site has a flash intro where you take the parka off the set
to enter the site, so I assume this was a last minute decision.
The two channel Dolby surround sound was very good for a TV show. The
bass guitar in the theme song is full and, while not pounding, it is deep.
The background noises come through come through cleanly and add a lot to
the atmosphere of the show. The lapping of the waves against the shore,
and the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees are low but clear.
The dialog was very crisp and there was no hiss or distortion. There are
also captions for the hearing impaired in English and subtitles in French,
Of course, what everyone wants to know is if the original music is intact.
The first season included the original music, but some of the second seasons
songs were replaced with generic music. I'm sad to report that some,
but not all, of the music has been replaced in this set too. Now,
I'm no expert on music, and I didn't check every single song. (I wouldn't
recognize half of them anyway.) I did go back and look for songs
that I'm familiar with. While some important songs were kept in,
several were changed. In Animals R Us, the episode where Maggie
thinks a dog in the reincarnated spirit of her dead boyfriend, Chris dedicates
a song to her, and My Boyfriend's Back by the Angels does play.
In Only You when Joel arrives at Chris' trailer to find it surrounded
by women, the Ramones I Want to Be Sedated is blaring in the foreground
as it was when originally broadcast. Unfortunately some other songs
have been changed. Dwight Yokum's Guitars & Cadillacs
is missing from the episode Wake-Up Call, and while Lynard Skynard's
Gimme Three Steps is playing in the middle of My Mother, My Sister,
they replayed that song again at the end of the show instead of buying
the rights to Motley Crue's Without You which would have been much
more appropriate. While this is disappointing, it could have been
worse. I'm just glad that they included as many songs as they did.
The full frame image looks very good. The video has been remastered
and is sharp and clear. The colors are full and accurate. There is
a very little aliasing in some scenes, but it is minimal. A great looking
There are some great extras included in this set. First off, each
disc includes a reel of deleted and extended scenes from the shows on that
disc. These last a few minutes each and are fun to watch. The
third disc (side B) also has a series of "unexposed scenes." These
are a few funny gag reels where people forget their lines or start to laugh.
There's also an extended version of Ed's documentary of Cicely which was
The most interesting extra is Lost Storylines. This has
footage from storylines that were dropped from an episode for one reason
on another. There are four of these, and they range from 2½
to nearly 13 minutes in length.
This is an excellent season. The acting and direction are good,
but the scripts are really excellent. They contain just the right
mix of humor and drama so that the show is consistently funny but never
silly or descending to the level of a sitcom. The fact that
there is continuity between episodes also adds a lot to the show.
If you weren't that impressed with the first season, you should definitely
give this show another try.
Unfortunately, Universal didn't spring for the rights to all of the
music, and some of it has been changed. The good news is that most
of the songs that are in the foreground of the mix are the same, it is
mainly songs that are in the backgrounds that have been replaced.
I also didn't like the fact that they changed the packaging so that the
seasons no longer match. These are the two things that keep this
excellent set from getting a DVD Talk Collector's series rating.
As it is, even with the altered music and different packaging, this set
is one that people should really check out. If you've never seen
the show before, this would be a good place to start. Highly Recommended.