In 10 Words Or Less (with sincere apologies to Francis Rizzo III)
No, Universal hasn't gone and re-remastered these episodes, or thrown in a new cut of the pilot, or fixed the Season 2 music alterations, or even added any new bonus features. No, they've simply combined both short seasons of the wonderfully weird Northern Exposure into one handy little package, cut the total price in half and improved the overall presentation (i.e., they've done away with the double-sided discs!). So, again I repeat: whoever bought these seasons separately is gonna be pissed---but hey, at least your curiosity has been satisfied.
For those lucky souls who have yet to purchase this series on DVD…well, now looks to be about as good a time as any, doesn't it?
For new and old fans alike, the fact that a series as quirky and refreshing as Northern Exposure (1990-1995) lasted for six seasons…well, that means it had to have been doing something right. It did plenty of things right, actually: with colorful characters, smart writing, solid performances and a unique atmosphere, it simply gave viewers something they weren't used to at the time (except during Twin Peaks, of course). Like any series, it took a little while to find its rhythm, but even its first steps were more interesting than what normally passed for network TV at the time.
These "first steps" took place during the short-lived but memorable Seasons 1 and 2, which combined for a total of just fifteen episodes. It's here that we're first introduced to Joel Fleischman (above left), a young doctor fresh out of medical school at Columbia University---but due to a bit of small print in his scholarship requirements (and after a detour in Anchorage), he's required to move to the nearby town of Cicely, Alaska to complete a four-year service contract. With a population of just over 200, the tiny, moose-infested Alaskan community is quick to welcome such an esteemed young man, though he undoubtedly had bigger plans for his first years of medical practice.
Featuring a platter of the most lovable oddballs this side of Fargo, series creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey (St. Elsewhere, Amazing Stories) really set the stage for interesting character stories and interaction. Among others, we meet Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), a former astronaut; Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary), a beauty queen; Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum), a bar owner who's been feuding with Minnifield; and Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner), who's been experiencing a bit of culture clash with Dr. Fleischman. Though the first few episodes heavily rotate around the exploits of our dear doctor, Northern Exposure quickly settles into what makes it work best: dividing time between supporting characters and their lives---and for a series built around a small-town mentality, this proves to be a smart decision. It's obvious right from the pilot episode that creators Brand and Falsey have a lot of love and respect for their creations, but Seasons 1 and 2 are literally just the tip of the iceberg.
Through this first collection of episodes---again, there are fifteen in all, spread over four single-sided, dual-layered discs---we're well on our way to the series' most successful and strongest years. In the meantime, though, this slimmed-down (but still formidable) collection of early episodes is a must-have for those who have yet to see Northern Exposure on DVD---either for the first time or the fiftieth. Universal has done us a favor by improving the overall presentation (the disc format, in particular) and lowering the price substantially…and in that regard, their efforts are much appreciated. Though they arguably should've done this the first time around, let's take what we can get.
Season One Episode Index (Discs One and Two – 8 Episodes total)
Season Two Episode Index (Discs Three and Four – 7 Episodes total)
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, all fifteen episodes included in this four-disc set look excellent overall. Fans with worn-out VHS dubs will be happy to see an improvement in image detail and overall color, while there aren't any major digital problems to speak of (aside from a very mild amount of edge enhancement). The English Dolby Digital Surround mix is roughly the same quality---a bit leaner than more modern television productions, but more than enough to get the job done. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles have been provided for the episodes only.
Again, if you already shelled out $100 or so for these in 2004, you might be kicking yourselves right now---but at least you've got the cool puffy packaging, right? Though Universal could've gone the extra mile and added a few more extras to sweeten the pot, let's not get greedy: after all, we've got plenty to be happy about with this release. Only those who haven't already purchased these seasons on DVD need apply here---and for those lucky few, Northern Exposure: The Complete First and Second Seasons proves to be a well-rounded "consolidation prize" that offers much more bang for the buck. For those who love good things in small packages, this release comes firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.