Northern Exposure: The Complete First Season

When Dr. Joel Fleishman, a rookie doctor from New York City, lands in (the fictional town of) Cicily, Alaska, he is determined to retreat immediately. His type-A personality clashes with the simple nature of Cicily's tight-knit community: Native amateur film-maker Ed Chigliak's informalities irritate his big-city sensibilities, ex-Nasa town big-shot Maurice Minnifield nearly shoots him to show who's boss, and strong-headed pilot Maggie MacDonald is furious with Fleishman on a near-daily basis. But there'd be no show if the Doctor went home on the first day, so Joel is forced to make some version of peace with his new surroundings. Launched way back in 1990, Northern Exposure enjoyed initial success and quickly developed a loyal following (even nine years after its ending fans continue to gather annually in Roslyn, Washington for "Moosefest," a fan-run Northern Exposure festival) until Rob Morrow (Dr. Joel Fleishman) left the series in '95. In the first season, we watch as Fleishman grows accustomed to and even remotely fond of his community. Initially a stern "man of science," he softens to accept the somewhat strange ways of the locals. Marilyn, his assistant, treats a flu-ridden town with a natural remedy (it's basically animal manure), sexagenarian bar-owner Holling Vincouer struggles with the formality of marrying his 18-year-old adoring girlfriend, Shelley Tambo, and philosophising morning radio show host Chris Stevens is temporarily adopted by his boss, Maurice. The isolation of these individuals allows a charming innocence and intimacy of character that is uncommon in most television — the questionable genre of the series (drama or comedy?) allowed a relaxed, feel-good middle ground viewing experience that mirrors the tone of Cicily itself. The season ends on a remarkable note — a traveller from Oregon is mystically drawn to Cicily, where the Alaskan moon is intensely bright and full. Through the episode, we learn that he is in fact Chris's long-lost half-brother, and a brilliant new character is born. Packaged for the tactilely-inclined in zip-up parka material, the DVD still has its drawbacks. No commentary, boring-by-nature deleted scenes and only eight episodes (it would've made more sense to combine the first with the seven-episode second season) make this a questionable purchase — but for the hardcore fan, it's definitely necessary. (Universal)