Northern Exposure: Season 3
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Northern Exposure: Season 3

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When a popular television series hits its third year there is a danger of the story lines and plots becoming repetitive. Many writers and producers try, often in vein, to reuse what made the show a success in order to maintain the number of viewers. Fortunately, with Northern Exposure the reason for the success, the quirky ensemble cast and location, provided enough variation to keep the series fresh. Rob Morrow continues his leading role as Dr. Joel Fleischman, a somewhat spoiled, recently graduated New York City physician who indentures himself to a small town in Alaska in order to repay his student loans. In the first two seasons Joel was the proverbial fish out of water, the stranger in a strange land. Now, after being in Cicely, Alaska a couple of years he is beginning to fit in. The stories are less about his longing for the bagel available twenty four hours a day back in the Big Apple and more about how much a part of this odd community he has become. Joel has become far more accepting of his neighbors, he realized at some point that they are just people despite their many quirks.

An example would be Maggie (Janine Turner) the local pilot who seems to always be at odds with Joel. There is a sexual attraction similar to what made Moonlighting so much fun but since this is Alaska, there is a strange little twist. It seems that every man Maggie becomes involved with has a lethal and bizarre accident. Her last boyfriend, Rick (Grant Goodeve) died in season two when a satellite fell on him. Now the town puts up a statue in his honor and Maggie comes to believe that a stray dog she adopted is actually Rick reincarnated. Not every plot line has to be unusual; one features Maggie’s concerns over growing older when she discovers that she needs glasses. It is this juxtaposition of the common place and strange that keeps the audience entertained while allowing us to identify with the humanity of the characters.

While many characters become cartoonish by a third season Northern Exposure went in another direction, the stories explored their humanity, showing that no matter how odd they may appear they are more like us then at first it would seem. For example, Maurice (Barry Corbin) started as the super macho ex-astronaut but over the years has matured into a fully fleshed out man. He is lonely despite his posturing; he is fumbles like a school boy in his attempts to start a relationship with police officer Barbara Semanski (Diane Delano) and vainly worries when an unflattering photograph is taken of him. In the closing episode of the season the town itself takes center stage as the founding of Cicely is shown helping to explain why the community is so unique. Whether Joel is learning about Christmas or trying to understand tribal medicine the characters in this series grow and remain interesting to us viewers.

The casting of this series was without a doubt one of the reasons for its success. Each member gives their all, adding spice to the mixture without the need to always have center stage. Rob Morrow has softened his portrayal of Joel, going from anger in the first season to acceptance by the third. Morrow allows Joel to become integrated into Cicely, no longer as a stranger not only from the town’s perspective but more importantly he now seen himself as a member of the community. He keeps a New Yorker’s sense of independence while taking on some of the natural acceptance found in the native people of the area. Janine Turner makes Maggie completely believable as a person. While is a modern, independent young woman, a pilot who owns and operates her business, is is also a person who needs love. This goes beyond the physical, Maggie yearns for an emotional connection. In this third season there is always the potential for her to hook up with Joel but they strength of their personalities, the very aspect that attracts them to each other, keeps them from becoming involved. There are really no small or ancillary roles in this series. Each actor is afforded the opportunity to develop their characters. Marilyn, Joel’s Native American office assistant is ably played by Elaine Miles. She gives us a laconic person who deeply cares about her heritage and community. John Corbett plays the handsome and philosophical radio DJ Chris. He is the soul of the community, providing esoteric music along with his musings on life and existence. Veteran actor John Cullum is joined by newcomer Cynthia Geary has a couple in a May/December relationship. The difference is their age is addressed but never in a puerile fashion. One of the best actors found here is Darren E. Burrows as Ed, a young Native man who loves his heritage but also dreams of directing independent films. Burrows plays Ed as a new type of Native American, successfully combining the old ways with new ones.

This series works because of the connection it is able to make with the audience. The revolving group of directors used in this season maintains continuity while putting their own brand on their episodes. The clash between the Native ways and modern technology remains but there is now an underlying theme that they can coexist and even augment each other. Even though Cicely is far to the north amidst natural splendor there are touches of the places we all grew up in. The neighbors are more like an extended family; the directors help the audience see just how important that is through the changes in Joel.

The DVD from Universal hits the mark almost perfectly. The only downside I could find is they no longer wrap the cover with a miniature padded vest. That is reserved this time for the full three season box set. This was a gimmick but I liked it. As for the DVD itself it was great. The remastered video is more vibrant than ever giving an excellent color palette, especially note worthy with the fantastic backgrounds used in the series. The Dolby two channel stereo is deeper than most television series on DVD. There is a better bass response here giving a rich feel. There are about two hours of extras provided, much along the same lines as the previous two season sets. There are deleted scenes that show some of what was removed to make this series so well edited. The extended scenes offered give a little look at what at first seemed like a good idea but eventually was trimmed for various reasons. They even include information on some of the story lines that appeared to have just drifted off during the run of the show. This is one to enjoy with the whole family.

Posted 6/18/05

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