I remember the teaser advertising campaign here in Brisbane for this show about six months before it went to air. On bright yellow paper there was a cartoon rendering of a moose with the words ĎThe moose is comingí. What the hell it meant was anybodyís guess. Then this show turned up and we figured this must be it, thereís not been a moose on television sinceÖ well, since this morning on the Rocky & Bullwinkle reruns. But apart from that, there was not another moose in sight. Until Northern Exposure.
(And Snagglepuss used to say ĎI hate those meeses to piecesí but he was referring to mice, not meese... or mooses, or whatever the plural is).
Anyway, enough technobabble. Northern Exposure. What do we know about it? Itís set in Alaska, itís about a bunch of weird characters inhabiting a frontier town on the New Riviera and itís about finding yourself where you least expect to.
I never really watched the show when it was on telly. Something about the Friday night timeslot seems to deter me, like itís a dumping ground for tried and tested formula shows or movies (See Bad Boys). However, my partner had enjoyed it and I thought Iíd like to see it from the start (have real trouble caring about a show in its fifth year if I havenít followed it from the start. That being said, I still have trouble sometimes with fifth seasons of shows Iíve grown tired of). So we watched it from pilot to episode eight and really enjoyed it. Beats watching regular television with their ads for haemorrhoid relief cream and impossible people drinking cola.
The premise is one of a few formulas found circulating around Hollywood; that of the fish out of water (#14 in the Big Book of Hollywood Clichťs available at all good bookstores). Joel Fleischman is a well to do Jewish doctor from New York City. Heís engaged and an all round neurotic person who finds his med-school bills all paid up by the Alaskan council. All he has to do is spend four years in Anchorage, a large sprawling city in Southern Alaska. Or so he thinks.
|"We got land, we got wildlifeÖ just waiting to be fondled!"|
Upon arrival he is quickly whisked away to Cicely, a frigid place on the New Riviera of Alaska and light years away from New York City. Here he meets all manner of odd folks that time seems to have forgotten as he tries desperately to find his footing in this bizarre situation. When he learns heís stuck here for four years with an irreversible contract he despairs and begins thinking of anything at all he can use to get home. And naturally, hilarity ensues.
Included in this first season are all eight episodes that seem to be fishes out of water themselves. Thereís a pilot, sure, but thereís no cliffhanger last episode to keep us wanting more. It ends in a very peaceable fashion, neither frantically trying to hook us nor uncaringly casting us away. I guess it feels the humanity of the series speaks for itself and, of course, it does. The writing is human, the characters also human and the situations, well, human again. Mostly. Thereís also a delicious thread of mythology running through the show that permeates itself in the essence of the Native American influence. Wild beasts, mysterious lights and skeletons in every closet are all here slowly revealing themselves. Thereíre also some more familiar favourites in the sexual tension between the two main protagonists of Joel and Maggie OíConnell, the feisty pilot. Plus love triangles, mysterious maladies and good old-fashioned paranoia. Not to mention the modern adaptation of the unruly mob wanting to burn down Dr. Frankensteinís abomination. Well, okay, not quite, but you get my continental drift.
- Pilot. 46:03
- Brains, Know-How and Native Intelligence. 45:52.
- Soapy Sanderson. 45:59.
- Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens. 45:59.
- Russian Flu. 45:50.
- Sex, Lies and Edís tape. 45:48.
- A Kodiak Moment. 46:03.
- Aurora Borealis. 46:04.
Regarded as a groundbreaking show of its day there can be little doubt this paved the way for other shows of similar difference. Picket Fences is one that leaps to mind. Providence too. And I think there are others starting with 'P' or other letters of the alphabet. It even contains some funny moments parodying these differences, including the forever to be remembered Twin Peaks.
You have to love a show that can laugh at itself and here Northern Exposure manages to do so without seeming weak-willed or devoid of content. Itís a humourous, warm and sometimes moving series that has something for everyone, and certainly at least one character everyone can relate to.
This was made in 1990, so what should we expect? Probably something a teensy bit better than weíve been delivered here. While itís quite watchable there is a faint tiredness to the film stock that belies its age. There are film artefacts as frequent, but soft-spoken, guests and mild grain comes in quite regularly. The opening and closing titles look particularly ripped from video stock, while we also get some odd moments of aliasing. Interiors are a little washed out and shadow detail isnít great, but happily blacks are true to life. Every so often we may experience a little film wobble or jitter, but itís never anything too dramatic.
There are also moments of what resembles white balance glowing around contrasting characters and backgrounds. For example, in a darkened interior with poor light, a character in a light coloured shirt may have a faint glow about their person. Itís not too bad though and as I say, the show is quite watchable. Letís just call it another quirk.
Oh, and itís delivered in the old school format of 4:3, of course.
Itís a TV show from the early '90s. What do you think it comes in? Thatís right, state of the art Dolby Digital stereo. It does the job just fine without any real traumas. Itís mostly a dialogue driven vehicle here and the talking all sounds clear. It is a little lower perhaps than the music, but itís not a huge margin between the two.
Music, on that note, has been scored by David Schwartz and suits the showís quirkiness nicely. The theme song in particular is certainly one everyone will recognise whether theyíre fans or not. That accordion sound is hard to stop whistling once heard, I gotta say. Anyhow this does help the spirit of the show along and sounds fine.
I found season one of Northern Exposure very entertaining. It has a very nice balance between the mystical, the spiritual and the physical with some more everyday problems keeping the series grounded in our reality to some extent. Performances are all fine with a mild psychosis lurking beneath some characters and an unsung subtlety in others.
Itís funny, itís charming and although it could have had a slightly cleaner transfer, itís a great collection for the fans. Or even anyone ready to experience something decidedly different from your usual cop/lawyer drama or 22 minute sugary sitcom.