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Northern Exposure - The Complete Fourth Season

Universal // Unrated // March 28, 2006
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted April 27, 2006 | E-mail the Author
A show that began its life as a CBS mid-season replacement and steadily picked up steam during its prime time run, 'Northern Exposure" was a series that grew on both viewers and critics alike. Set in the quiet little town of Cicely, Alaska, Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is the main character of sorts, playing a young Jewish doctor and classic New Yorker who thrives on big cities and the hustle and bustle of his Big Apple home. Unfortunately he is obligated by a scholarship contract to serve a number of hours/years in medical service to the state of Alaska in order to repay his scholarship debt. To put it mildly he is a frustrated city fella who feels woefully out of place, landing in this barely populated spot that resides in the midst of nowhere.

I use the term main character loosely here, as Northern Exposure is very much a series that flourishes upon making good use of an sizable ensemble cast of 9 (and sometimes more) eclectic characters. There is Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), former astronaut and entrepreneur who is always looking for a way to commercialize the Alaskan frontier in order to bring tourists and revenue to Cicely. Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) is an endearing but no-nonsense 75 year old senior citizen who runs and in time owns the general store. Young and sometimes naive Native American Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) is a young aspiring filmmaker, Indian shaman and jack of all trades. Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) is the owner and manager of The Brick, the town's local tavern which he runs with girlfriend/wife Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary), former 80's beauty queen, groupie and junior to Holling by some forty years. There is also Joel's receptionist Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles), a serene Native American who takes Joel's hyperactive phobias in stride and quietly keeps him on a somewhat even working keel; Chris Stevens (John Corbett) is the town radio station's deejay, former con, pseudo-hippie and community philosophist. Finally there is Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner)- a sometimes lovable, sometimes brash and ofttimes aggravating local pilot, Joel's landlady and the perfect yin to his yang.

The romantic tension between Joel and Maggie built for years in a nature akin to classic screen couples such as Tracy and Hepburn; attracted, not attracted, on and off again, alternately bickering or cautiously warming to one another- the two simply couldn't figure out what to do with each other for season after season. The shows off-kilter slant on all aspects of life and excellent use of a sizable cast made this series one both familiar yet fresh year after year, and the interplay between any number of it's dissimilar regulars was priceless. While there have been some attempts to replicate the odd charm of this dramedy, it remains one that stands out in ways all it's own. Sadly, when Morrow elected to leave the show it simply couldn't hold up; Joel was too much the thread that held the interweaving fabric of the series itself together. Personally, I believe Northern Exposure could have had a run lasting twice as long had he stayed.

Listed here are the episodes for season four-

Northwest Passages-Maggie's 30th birthday is a time for reflection for her as well as many of Cicely's residents. Standout episode with cameos from Maggie's beaus of past seasons.

Midnight Sun-When the sun won't set, Joel's boundless energy finds an outlet in coaching the local basketball team, and Holling has a fixation with Shelly in her cheerleading outfit.

Nothing's Perfect-Chris accidentally runs over a dog and falls in love with its owner, a PI-equation fixated lady named Amy with a penchant for taking in all strays. Maurice buys an incredible antique clock that won't keep time.

Heroes-Rock star Brad Bonner (Adam Ant) hits town and wants to turn a mistaken trip to Cicely into a documentary of his communing with the natives. Chris has to decide what to do with the remains of an old running pal who has literally be mailed to his doorstep.

Blowing Bubbles-Mike Monroe arrives in town and Maggie thinks she can help to cure his hypochondria; Ruth Anne's investment obsessed son wants to retire to run a lure shop, but Maurice has other ideas.

On Your Own-The Flying Man returns to town bent on wooing over Marilyn, and Maurice writes his Korean son into his will.

The Bad Seed-Jackie Vinceour (Valerie Perrine) arrives in Cicely, a chip off the bad seed block looking to find a way to hoodwink Holling out of some major money.

Thanksgiving-To Joel's dismay the Indian Thanksgiving tradition is to good-naturedly throw tomatoes at white people. Even so, he is still happy in the season....until learning that Alaska has deemed he must serve a fifth year in service to the state in order to fulfill his contract.

Do the Right Thing-A former KGB agent breezes into town with Maurice's top secret dossier, which holds some perturbing information for the former astronaut hero.

Crime and Punishment-Chris is busted on a parole violation and Mike Monroe is tapped to invent a defense case to prevent extradition to West Virginia. Great stuff, this.

Survival of the Species-Ed starts having dreams of apocalypse. Maggie finds Indian artifacts in her front yard and suddenly it becomes a male vs. female power struggle. Not one of my favorite episodes.

Revelations-Chris takes a vacation in a monastery, and Joel becomes edgy when the town suddenly has no sick residents for him to tend to.

Duets-Indian spirit One Who Waits returns to town to reveal the location of Ed's father.

Grosse Point, 48230-An interesting little episode- Joel is wooed with Knicks ticks to accompany Maggie to Detroit for her grandmother's 80th birthday party. Joel finds out just how dysfuncional Maggie's family is.

Learning Curve-Marilyn takes a vacation to Seattle and leaves Joel wondering about her safety, bringing out a maternal side he allows to consume him. Holling goes back to school for his diploma.

Ill Wind-The Coho wind arrives in Cicely, making residents crazy; Ed fixates on death, Chris saves Maurice's life much to the hero's emotional consternation; and Maggie breaks Joel's nose. This is one for the fans to take particular notice of, as some surpising events transpire here.

Love's Labour Mislaid-Maggie blocks out her tryst with Joel, and Ed is faced with an arranged Indian marriage he is hesitant to agree to.

Northern Lights-Around the clock sunlight makes the town residents a little distraught; Joel goes on strike when his 2 week vacation is denied by the state of Alaska. Always lots of fun to be had when something seasonal makes a change in everyones' behavior.

Family Feud-A history telling totem pole causes controversy and a rift in the Raven and Bear clans....and Holling and Shelly finally marry in order to put an end to Shelly's dancing hallucinations.

Homesick-Maurice moves his childhood home to Cicely, causing him distress over memories of his brother. Not one of my favorites.

The Big Feast-A wonderful episode. Maurice throws an immense party of regal proportion; Maggie loses Joel's invitation, leaving him in a frenzy over believing he wasn't invited. Great cameos by Adam and Eve, the eclectic hermit couple from previous seasons.

Kaddish, For Uncle Manny-Joel's Uncle Manny dies, and the town scrambles to help Joel find ten Jews in order to recite the Kaddish in his honor.

Mud and Blood-Spring fever hits Cicely, just in time for the Mosquito Festival. Holling pays to go to work on a farm, but not for long as Shelly has a special announcement to make.

Sleeping With the Enemy-Maurice refuses to give his blessing to the marriage of his Korean son, who has fallen for the daughter of Minnefield's old war foe. Holling becomes concerned when Shelly is so preoccupied she refuses to have sex with him.

Old Tree-The oldest tree in town is dying and Joel is asked to make a prognosis on "Old Vicky".

Something Northern Exposure was always good at doing was interspersing yet more eccentric characters and using them as guests of a sort, bringing them in for an episode or few each season. Maggie's propensity for bad luck with dying boyfriends always made for a bit of morbid fun while enabling the writers to weave in a recurring new beau from time to time- the first episode of the fourth season is visited by ALL of her deceased ex-beaus in a dream sequence. Also in season four we see many guest spots by Anthony Edwards, who plays Mike, her somewhat hesitant romantic partner- a 'boy in the bubble' hypochondriac, living in a bio-dome and constantly fretting what about chemical and air pollution around the globe is doing to his health. Among other returning characters during the season run are Chris' African-American, like-thinking brother Bernard, who seems to be a frequent guest; Maurice's sometimes lady love/lust interest Barbara who is also a stoic, by the book police officer; former chef and current hermit 'Adam', and Marilyn's clone-like mother. We also get some interesting guest stars such as eighties rocker Adam Ant, Valerie Perrine and Kevin Conway.

Every season is bound to have its highlights as well as less notable episodes and situations. Season four seems intent on keeping the bar high with some real gems and solid showcases for each of the Northern Exposure characters- Maggie confronting her own mortality as well as her romantic past; Ed finally meeting his father; Holling going back to school; Joel coming to a rather harsh understanding that Thanksgiving isn't necessarily a holiday the Indians celebrate with the aplomb of their Caucasian neighbors; Maggie breaking Joel's nose and the ensuing (and even shocking) melee that act inspires; Joel being hoodwinked into having to serve a fifth year of Alaskan residency in order to fulfill his contract; Maurice confronting death; both Marilyn and Ruth Ann being offered marriage proposals; Marilyn vacationing in Seattle; Chris facing more prison time for violating his parole; Shelly and Holling finally tying the knot; and Holling being visited by a middle-aged shyster of a daughter he never knew he had. There is much fun to be had in this season set, all the while Joel and Maggie being faced with each other's hesitant desire for the other along the way. Some interesting advances- and retreats- are offered up in order to keep the viewers wondering.

The DVD-

This set consists of three double sided discs, each in clear plastic slim cases and housed in a cardboard box. Sorry folks, I can't comment on the parka synonymous with the Northern Exposure releases as it wasn't included here with the screener copy.

There have been complaints surrounding previous Northern Exposure DVD releases from the first season on. The first two short season sets could have easily been combined or released at a lower MSRP, and there are instances where the original soundtrack music has been replaced due to rights and costs. Happily, Season Four presents the viewer with 25 episodes- almost 20 hours of material. If there are instances here where the original music has been replaced, I am unaware of it.


This set is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio. According to information given on the back cover the episodes have been digitally remastered. Video quality is very good here; colors are rich and true while the image is clean with a good degree of sharpness.


The audio track here is English Dolby Digital 2.0 and is fine track for sitcom purposes. Voices are clear and easy to understand. Surprisingly, the music presented here sounds splendid given the medium; when utilized several songs sound far better than one would think given the track and opening and closing themes in particular sound full with deep solid bass, a strong representation of how a well rendered stereo track can sound.


Extras scattered throughout the set are a number of deleted and extended scenes, usually a minute or two in length and seemingly from just about every episode of the season. Many would have fit quite well into the story lines but were obviously cut for time purposes. Great stuff and well worth having a look at once you've watched the episodes in which they would have appeared.

Also here are two separate gag reels, each about 7 minutes in length with some great flubs by pretty much all the regular cast members; lots of blowing lines, laughing and having some good-natured fun at each others' expense. Again, great stuff and well worth checking out.

Final Thoughts-

Admittedly, this reviewer is a bit favorably biased towards season four, for this was the period in which I began watching the show during it's prime-time run. By this point in the life of the series all the characters are firmly in place with the main plotlines humming along like a well-tuned engine. With 25 episodes, a solid video and audio presentation, plus many deleted scenes and gag reels to boot Northern Exposure Season Four is pretty much a textbook example of how TV on DVD should be done. It is definitely a set any fan of Northern Exposure should own, and not a bad entry point for curious neophytes to get a feel for the show. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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