An immensely enjoyable and popular series for CBS for six seasons, "Northern Exposure" starred Rob Morrow as medical student Joel Fleishman. Fleishman's expenses for medical school were a bit too much to handle, so he decided to look for funding and eventally stumbled onto an odd position: the State of Alaska would fund his education if he became a doctor in the small town of Cicely.
The good doctor-in-training is dismayed at his new outpost, to put it lightly, and seeks assignment elsewhere, but he's obligated. However, the residents of the town start to look to him not only for his medical expertise, but for help in their own personal matters, as well. Some of the townsfolk include: Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), a former astronaut; Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner), a local pilot; Chris Stevens (John Corbett), the host of the local radio station and Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles), Joel's secretary.
"Northern" really was a remarkable little series for a while, as it could have been a very formulaic sitcom. Instead, the show was a nice mix of comedy and drama, with characters that were eccentric, but not goofy. The performances - by both main and supporting cast - were also fun and memorable. NBC tried to mint success from a somewhat similar formula with "Ed" - although that show was enjoyable for a while, it was never as natural as the best of "Northern Exposure".
The sixth and final season of the series opened with a fantasy episode that had Joel accidentially taking a homemade Indian pain medication, launching him into an alternate universe, where the characters are all in the middle of high society New York. In this world, Joel is married to Shelly, Maggie is their nanny, Maurice is the doorman and Chris is a fashion photographer, among other twists. The episode is a sweet and occasionally touching fantasy episode that's a great way to start off what eventually becomes a rather rocky season for the series.
Actor Rob Morrow started his move away from the series in "Up River", an episode where he "went AWOL" and decided to head up river to live with a native tribe, making Maurice furious. Morrow eventually left the show entirely later in the season, in "The Quest", an episode where he and Maggie head off to find the "Jeweled City of the North". The series may have gone on for a few more episodes, but it essentially really ends here. While "Northern" really had some terrific supporting characters, Morrow was the core of the show from the beginning, and perfect for the part.
"Sons of the Tundra" (which comes after "Up River"), introduces the Capras, which, for many is the instance where the show "jumped the shark." Phillip Capra (Paul Provenza) and his journalist wife, Michelle (Teri Polo) enter the show. Coming from Los Angeles, the two act shocked when a moose steps in front of their car, seeming as if they'd never seen a woodland creature before in their lives. The moose, clearly aware that these two were not going to be any good for the local population, appears to look entirely displeased as he steps closer to investigate these new arrivals, who have less personality combined than the Moose does.
The two new characters don't start out on the right foot and never work their way into the series in an enjoyable manner. Joel didn't want to be in Cicely in the beginning, and that worked. When he finally did settle in, his neurotic manner was a good counterpoint to the characters and yet, he also fit in with the small town residents well. The Capras are slick yuppies who wanted to come to Cicely, although at the same time, they never seem that comfortable with the whole idea, although that may be a reflection of the performances, as both Provenza and Polo often appear as if they're the last-minute subs pushed into the spotlight. Provenza is a comedian, but is rarely funny here and Polo, despite future success in "Meet the Parents" is unmemorable. Making matters worse is the fact that these two have little chemistry.
"Northern Exposure" still has enjoyable moments during this sixth season, but Morrow's departure really gives the series a hit that it doesn't recover from. While there are some flaws with this final season, the final episode does at least give this terrific series a pleasant send-off.
88 Dinner at Seven-Thirty 9/19/1994
- Joel sees how his life might have been in New York City when drinking one of Ed's concoctions
89 Eye of the Beholder 9/26/1994
- Ed takes a part-time job as a private investigator but is troubled by his first surveillance; an auction for the expansion of the town library brings unexpected consequences for both buyers and donors.
90 Shofar, So Good 10/3/1994
- The ghost of Yom Kippur allows Joel to examine his present, past and even future behavior - and the effects are haunting.
91 The Letter 10/10/1994
- Missives abound in Cicely as Maggie reads a note she wrote to herself as a seen and Shelly wonders about a dark chain letter; Joel's worry that he may have cancer leads to a change of outlook on life.
92 The Robe 10/17/1994
- The stakes are high when Shelly considers making a deal with the devil to allow gambling in Cicely.
93 Zarya 10/31/1994
- Ed films Marilyn telling the story of her grandfather, his relationship with a Russian princess and their plans to meet in Cicely.
94 Full Upright Position 11/7/1994
- As they leave together on an all-expenses paid trip to Russia, it's blue skies ahead for Joel and Maggie - or is it?
95 Up River 11/14/1994
- Ed sets out up the river to bring back Joel, who has settled in with a native tribe.
96 Sons of the Tundra 11/28/1994
- The Capras arrive in Cicely, while Holling considers joining a men's club.
97 Realpolitik 12/12/1994
- Maggie embraces her role as mayor and Phil and Joey play a metaphysical round of golf.
98 The Great Mushroom 1/4/1995
- On Joel's birthday, Maggie sets off to Manonash to rescue him from an untimely death; what begins as a dinner party turns into more than that for the Capras.
99 Mi Casa, Su Casa 1/11/1995
- The residents learn that moving up in life doesn't always include moving on physically when Shelling and Holling look for a new home and Ed's housesitting assignment has him remodeling his personality.
100 Horns 1/18/1995
- There's something strange in the newly tapped Cicely water when the residents start taking on the traits of the opposite sex.
101 The Mommy's Curse 2/1/1995
- Maggie is convinced that she's inherited the dead-boyfriend curse from her mother when her mother's new beau passes away peacefully during a pool game.
102 The Quest 2/8/1995
- Joel and Maggie search for the Jeweled City of the North, leaving behind a resentful Chris.
103 Lucky People 2/15/1995
- Change takes its toll when Michelle and Phil realize they've just invested all their money in a place they hate.
104 The Graduate 3/8/1995
- There are some important lessons to be learned when Maggie takes over ownership of the movie theatre. Chris takes his oral exams for his master's degree and Holling faces the child he's supported financially for all these years.
105 Little Italy 3/15/1995
- Everyone's behaving badly when Phil gets in the middle of an Italian family feud, Ruth-Anne looks for another quirky resident tale for her radio show and Holling punches a moose head in the middle of the bar.
106 Balls 4/6/1995
- A doubles bowling tournament brings out the best and worst of everyone.
107 Buss Stop 4/24/1995
- Everyone wants to take center stage when Michelle organizes a production of "Bus Stop", but stage fright brings a halt to the production.
108 Ursa Minor 7/12/1995
- Ed tries to "parent" a bear cub, Chris works through his issues with Maggie through lucid dreaming and Maurice tries to force the population number up.
109 Let's Dance 7/19/1995
- Phil offends a Tlingit elder and Chris joins Marilyn's cotilion class.
110 Tranquility Base 7/26/1995
- The new lodge at Tranquility base opens and Maurice is confronte with a decision, while Chris realizes how much he misses Maggie.
VIDEO: "Northern Exposure" is presented by Universal in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. The presentation lived up to my expectations in terms of quality, given the material and the age of the episodes. Sharpness and detail weren't exceptional in any way, but the image appeared consistently crisp and clean, with no moments of considerable softness.
No edge enhancement was spotted, but some minor traces of pixelation were occasionally spotted, as well as some shimmering. Slight grain was also apparent at times, as well as a couple of specks here-and-there. The show's naturalistic color palette was represented well, with nice saturation and no smearing. The box notes that the show has been digitally restored here, but the presentation for this final season is still just okay.
SOUND: The 2.0 soundtrack was perfectly fine, with crisp, clear dialogue and ambience. Note: once again, some of the music tracks on this DVD are different than the original broadcast due to rights issues.
EXTRAS: Most episodes offer deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: "Northern Exposure" has some rocky moments in its final season with the departure of star Rob Morrow, but the show regains its footing by the final episode. The DVD set offers reasonably good audio/video quality, but minimal extras. Recommended for fans looking to complete their collection.