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Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season
The first time I saw Northern Exposure was when I reviewed the first season on DVD. Though I knew the show had a loyal fan base, I was underwhelmed by it. I didn't really like Joel, the main character, and thought that the scripts were fairly standard for a TV drama. I took a little flack for that opinion from fans of the show, which is fine. I just couldn't see why everyone was excited about the show.
When the second season arrived in my mailbox, I honestly wasn't expecting much. I assumed that it would be another series of a solid yet unexceptional shows. After watching this season though, I can see why people are enamored with the show. The program really evolved between the seasons, really coming into its own.
Northern Exposure is a quirky drama that takes place in Cicely, a rural city in Alaska. Cicely is a unique place, a town where a beautiful woman can steal your voice away, and Indian spirits visit orphans looking for their parents. A town where the morgue is a picnic table in a back yard, spring is celebrated when all the men in town run through the town buck naked, and "I don't want you for your mind, I want you for your body." is consider a romantic line. It's a show that when the writers back themselves into a corner, they just end the segment and go on to the next scene. Yet behind all of these odd events is a solid drama that is quite enjoyable.
Joel Fleischman is a doctor who has agreed to practice medicine for a few years in exchange for his tuition to medical school. He wasn't expecting to be assigned to a small town, much less one in such a remote location. He doesn't like the town, and just wants to get back to his home town 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 four 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 his girlfriend who is forty years his junior, Shelly.
This season works much better than the first. The show starts playing to its strong points, the wonderfully eclectic group of people who inhabit the town. This season saw a lot less of Joel complaining about being in Alaska, and changed into an ensemble production. Though Joel is still the center of the show, the focus isn't on him nearly as much as it was during the inaugural season. This season concentrates on the people who live in Cicely and their interactions.
The first show of the season establishes that things are going to be different. Joel's fiancé whom he was often pining for breaks up with him in a letter, and Joel is no longer in such a hurry to get home. The focus changes too. Each show usually has two concurrent plot lines, and Joel often isn't featured in either. Though the show would not be the same without his fish-out-of-water reactions and his firm grasp of reality, it is nice to see him not being featured so prominently in every show.
Some of the better episodes in this season include Spring Break, where the whole town goes a little crazy waiting for the annual ice break up, and The Big Kiss in which a woman steals a morning DJ's voice. Both of these were entertaining yet different.
This show is oddly appealing. The fact that, though it's a standard TV drama in a lot of ways, the plot takes unexpected twists when you least expect it makes the show very unusual. The creators are very careful not to make the show strange for strangeness' sake, but keep it grounded in reality. Except when it isn't. And that's the fun thing about the show, it has a comfortable feeling to it, but you never know when things are going to be just a little bit odd.
The eight episodes that comprise the second season are on two double-sided DVDs. The set comes packed in a neat yellow parka-like slipcase that zippers up the front with a moose silhouette pull. It is a nice packaging gimmick, and I'm a sucker for those.
Note: It appears that Universal has replaced the music on this season. They have to license the right to the music of course, and that can get expensive. After going to the trouble and cost for the first season, the reason often given for the high cost of the set, at least some of the music has been left off the second season. There has been no reduction of price though.
I compared a couple of episodes with the original soundtrack as reported here. And while some important songs were kept in, several were changed. 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. "Simply Irresistible" by Robert Palmer was intact in Spring Break, which was important since Joel was dreaming that he was in the music video and it was an integral part of the scene. The episode What I did for Love did have "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy" and "You Do Something to Me" but the later didn't sound like Sinead O'Connor to me (though I could be mistaken) and I didn't hear "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady. The season finale, Slow Dance, had one of the most glaring examples of misused music. Chris in the Morning read a new report that a Russian satellite is going to crash to earth and compares that to the demise of the dinosaurs. He ends his little stream of consciousness monolog with "and this is for all the dinosaurs." but the music that he's playing is just Muzak, and doesn't relate to what he's saying at all.
While watching these episodes the first time through the music that is on the DVD didn't seem bad or out of place. I actually didn't notice that the music had been altered until someone brought it to my attention. The lack of comments about this issue on DVDTalk and other newsgroups (a search didn't turn up any complaints about this a month after the set was released) seem to confirm that the alterations are not glaring for the most part. Still, when paying a premium for the original soundtrack, it would be nice if they included it.
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 is also a Spanish dub audio track and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
This DVD set looks good. The full frame image is sharp and clear, and the colors are full and accurate. There is a very little aliasing in some scenes, but it is very minimal. A great looking picture.
There are only two bonus items, spread across the four sides, but they are fun to watch.
Deleted and extended scenes: There are several minutes worth of deleted scenes from each episode. Most of them are inconsequential but several of them were very amusing and the reels are well worth watching.
Unexposed footage: A blooper reels from each episode, generally 4-6 minutes per episode. Some of these are pretty funny.
I really enjoyed this second season. If you gave the first series a change and were just luke warm after watching it, be sure to give this set of shows a chance. If you passed the first season by, pick this one up anyway, it's an enjoyable show, and you won't be missing much if you haven't seen the first set of eight shows. I also complained about the price of the first season. This set, like the first, retails for $60 and contains only 7 episodes, which is pretty exspensive. I'm willing to pay for quality shows though. I'm happy to pay a premium for The Sopranos and The Wire, and I think this show is also worth the cost. I am disappointed that Universal didn't see their way clear to paying for the rights to all of the music originally used in the show. At this price point, they should have gone ahead and spent the extra money. I'm knocking my original rating down a notch because of that. Recommended.