Lifelong New Yorker Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), fresh from Columbia University’s medical school, arrives in Alaska to serve out his four years of service—the terms of his scholarship—in the first episode of Northern Exposure (1990-1995). But instead of the city of Anchorage, he’s assigned to the tiny Alaskan village of Cicely, courtesy of the machinations of town entrepreneur and former astronaut Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin).
While Maurice spins his schemes to turn this out-of-the-burg into a holiday destination, Fleischman tries to find his place in the community of amiable eccentrics, or rather tries to find his way out of it. Janine Turner is Maggie O’Connell, the local bush pilot with a dating curse (all of her boyfriends are doomed to early deaths) and Fleischman’s feisty landlady. Their combustible chemistry helps drive the series—every interaction is a clash and the classic will-they-or-won’t-they dance works as long as they don’t—but the show’s recipe for success is its ensemble and sense of humor.
There’s Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows), an aspiring movie director between his odd-job duties for Maurice; Chris Stevens (John Corbett), the town’s philosophical deejay whose free-wheeling commentary gets him repeatedly sacked despite his popularity; Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum), the sixty-something owner of the town’s bar and restaurant, and his much, much younger girlfriend Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary); plain-speaking general story owner Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips), and Marilyn (Elaine Miles), Fleischman’s deadpan receptionist.
Quirky, clever, and easy-going, the hour-long dramedy launched with an abbreviated try-out run that established its offbeat sense of humor and eclectic community. Witty dream sequences and fantasies abound and a terrific soundtrack of vintage song choices give set it apart from everything in prime time in the 1990s. They even sneak in a hilarious nod to Twin Peaks, TV’s reigning champion of Pacific Northwest weird.
It was warmly received and the first season finale introduced two of the show’s most memorable recurring characters: the mythical Bigfoot-like hermit Adam (Adam Arkin) and unexpected long-lost relative Bernard (Richard Cummings Jr.), who immediately connects with Chris.
The first season earned three Emmy nominations, including outstanding drama series. It took that award home in its second season among its six Emmy awards and built upon the following it earned over its initial eight-episode summer run. Maggie and Joel both face romantic challenges this season but the season highlight is the memorable “Spring Break” episode, where the wait for the ice to break turns everyone a little crazy and culminates with the annual “running of the bulls,” Cicely style. Unfortunately, it’s just as abbreviated as the first season, a mere seven episodes.
The third season delivers a full 23 episodes, brings back hermit couple “Adam and Eve,” and features Cirque de Soleil and Bill Irwin as the silent Enrico Ballati, The Flying Man, in the episode “Get Real.” Anthony Edwards joins the show as Mike Monroe, a lawyer suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity and Maggie’s new love interest, in the fourth season, which ends with the announcement of a blessed event.
Rob Morrow left the show after five seasons, giving Joel his long-awaited escape from Sicely, and Paul Provenza and Teri Polo join the cast in the sixth and final season. The chemistry, alas, leaves with Morrow, but the supporting cast is still spot on.
It was created and produced by Joshua Brand and John Falsey also previously created St. Elsewhere, and earned seven Emmy Awards over its run.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Northern Exposure: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
Northern Exposure: The Complete Series [DVD]
The original DVD releases include deleted/extended scenes from most episodes, outtakes, gag reels, and “lost storylines.” Be warned that many of the songs that graced the show and set the mood have been replaced for DVD release.