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.
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, and Spanish.
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 picture.
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 quite good.
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.