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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Maggie O'Connell: "Well, thanks Fleischman. That's... that's sweet. Oh, I appreciate it, I do. It's just that I have this Pavlovian response to you and I can never really express my appreciation. To you, that is...because you're sneaky and duplicitous and self-serving, and I always think you have a hidden agenda."
DVD Review"I could never respect a man who would iron my clothes." - Officer Barbara Semanski
Of all the television shows making their way to DVD these days, Northern Exposure has been at the top of my want list. Created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey (St. Elsewhere, I'll Fly Away) and debuting as a summer replacement in 1990, the show would find a fiercely loyal audience through its six seasons and 110 episodes, winning seven Emmys along the way.
Set in a remote community "on the cusp of the Alaskan Riviera," the show centers around a young Jewish doctor forced to pay off the debt he owes to the state of Alaska for funding his medical education. Dr. Joel Fleischman is as New York as Times Square, and the idea of spending the next four years of his life as the indentured servant of the town of Cicely, Alaska is about as kosher as pork on Saturday, but despite his fits and tantrums over his fate, Joel is stuck. His presence is due in large part to the town's big cheese, Maurice J. Minnifield (Barry Corbin), a former NASA rocket jockey with a penchant for show tunes, who owns 15,000 acres of Alaskan wilderness that he sees as the gateway to the future. In his eyes, having a Jewish doctor is just what Cicely needs to add credibility to its continued development into a thriving metropolis on the last frontier. The second season is much like the first in that it is abbreviated to only seven installments, but despite the small number of episodes, the series packs in a lot of entertainment.
Like all shows about small towns, it is the eclectic mix of personalities that give it its warmth and color, something that Northen Exposure excels at. The series is all about its characters; Cicely is a place where there are no rules, and where each person has their own distinct qualities.
The opener, Goodbye to All That sees Fleischman receiving a "Dear Joel" letter from former fiancée, Elaine. His attempts to get back on the horse are less than successful, inspiring the ever helpful Ed (Darren E. Burrows) to enlist Maggie's (Janine Turner) help to console him. Meanwhile, Holling (John Cullum) is having second thoughts about the satellite dish he bought for Shelly (Cynthia Geary), when she becomes obsessed by the multi-national broadcasts and transforms into a certified TV-aholic.
After Chris (John Corbett) loses his voice in The Big Kiss, the only remedy is to sleep with the most beautiful woman in town, but his choice doesn't sit well with Joel. The doctor also has concerns about Ed's mental state when Ed summons a 256-year-old Indian spirit named "One-Who-Waits" (Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman) to help him learn about his parents.
In All Is Vanity, a stranger dies in Fleischman's waiting room, prompting the town to post vigil for the unknown corpse. Holling decides to undergo circumcision in order to please Shelly. Joel is called upon to act as Maggie's boyfriend when her father unexpectedly arrives for a visit.
Maurice's plans for his annual clandestine affair with an astronaut groupie (Elizabeth Huddle) go awry when she suspects he has a sleeping disorder. Meanwhile Maggie's dreams of his death in a plane crash dampen Joel's enthusiasm about a long-anticipated vacation in New York in What I Did for Love.
Chris (John Corbett) breaks out Tolstoy's War and Peace in an episode of the same name when noted Russian star Nikolai Ivanovich Apalanov (Elya Baskin) arrives in Cicely to a warm welcome, sparking the town's annual Russian celebration, though things get out of hand during a chess match with arch rival Maurice. Ed falls in love with a farm girl (Dana Andersen) and convinces Chris to play Cyrano by penning an erotic love letter. Holling becomes insufferable when plagued by a rash of disturbing dreams.
Cicely awaits the ice breakup and tensions are high, with Spring Fever playing havoc to the town's psyche. An ornery Holling is set on starting up a fight with someone; Shelly is possessed by reading; and Joel and Maggie are struggling with their raging libidos. Diane Delano debuts as the hard-nosed, by-the-book Officer Barbara Semanski, a woman Maurice can respect, summoned to the normally crime-free town to investigate a series of burglaries, which Ed is also intent on solving in Spring Break.
Slow Dance introduces a gay couple, Ron (Doug Ballard) and Erick (Don McManus), who are looking to buy a bed and breakfast in town from Maurice, who they at first believe is a kindred spirit due to his musical and culinary tastes. The O'Connell curse strikes again after Maggie flunks Rick on his aviator's test, and Shelly begins to feel her age when an old friend of Holling's shows up to reminisce.
There isn't a bad episode among this bunch. The writing is brilliant, interweaving the multiple storylines that comprise each episode, and is wonderfully executed by the outstanding cast. The complexity of the many relationships embodied by the ensemble is both intriguing and rewarding—you never know quite what to expect at any given moment, and there are quite a few surprises in store. The stories are wacky, but are made somehow believable, and the characters continue to grow in depth and dimension as the series progresses, with some part of their personalities being revealed in each episode. There is a palpable heart to this fictional community, which enriches the show immensely.
The interplay between Morrow and Turner is hilarious to watch, with Maggie's defensive and ever suspicious nature colliding with Fleischman's brash self-centeredness, and the two have a sexual tension that is perfectly embodied, giving their strained relationship a wealth of undertones. Corbin gives Maurice a hard and stoic façade, but with a tender underside that surfaces from time to time. Cullum and Geary add their own flavor, with Holling's more mature, yet often primal personality contrasting with Shelly's bubbly and very Eighties younger girlfriend. Corbett's Chris sets the tone of the show with his eloquent soliloquies and philosophical diversions, while Burrows gives Ed an inquisitive naïveté, and somewhat dumbstruck appearance, yet with his own hidden areas of expertise. Elaine Miles is wonderful as the quiet yet resourceful Marilyn, and Peg Phillips handles the town shopkeeper, Ruth Ann, with a wisdom befitting her years.
With the show's musical content being such an important factor to the show's impact, obtaining the rights was one justification for the high price of this set. However, it appears that Universal has substituted some of the original elements, which I can not confirm, but I can only assume that the original music was prohibitively expensive to license, which seems to be a common problem these days. I will say that while I would have prefered the music intact, the revised soundtrack didn't detract from my complete enjoyment of the second season, despite its brevity.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Like the first season, this is by far the best presentation of the show I've ever seen. Although not completely perfect, colors are bold, the image is clean, and film grain is rendered well. There are a few scattered print defects, but nothing major. A few dark scenes have a bit of excessive grain, and some contrast is a little high, but overall I'm very happy with the quality.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Dolby surround. The soundstage is simple, but effective, with a moderate amount of directionality. Dialogue is easy to discern, and there are no technical abnormalities. Nothing to complain about here.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Quantum Leap: Season Two, Las Vegas, Miami Vice: Season One,
0 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Menus are simple, but could have been made even simpler due to the fact that there are at most two episodes per side—it would have been more user friendly to use dual layers instead of double sided, single-layered discs. While there are four chapter stops per episode, those wishing to easily skip the opening credits are at a loss, since the first stop is some ten minutes into the show. Universal has also chosen to include their corporate fanfare at the beginning of every episode. There is also a Play All feature.
The second season gets a yellow parka this time, but once again there is no printed episode guide included, just a cardboard advertising insert that replicates the back cover. I really hope this gets addressed for the third season.
I don't really have any complaints about the quality of the extra content provided, but like the first season set, it doesn't seem adequate to justify the significantly higher per-episode price for this set, especially considering the otherwise budget line treatment. This again is something I hope future seasons correct.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsThe second season of Northern Exposure continues to deliver bizarre, witty, and intelligent humor, but with a warmth and sensitivity for the human element in its more dramatic moments. The alterations to the soundtrack are disappointing, but the quality of the rest of the presentation, including some great extras and novel packaging are a treat. Having the show intact would help justify for the high price per episode, and the revisions may prompt some to skip the release, but Northern Exposure fans have to decide whether getting the show on DVD, even if there are some changes, is better than not getting it at all. From my perspective, for fans of the show, this set is absolutely essential, just shop around for a good deal. Very highly recommended.
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