Northern Exposure: Complete Second Season

In the early '90s, Northern Exposure was as good as television got for audiences who wanted literate comedy without a laugh track and for those who missed the eccentricities of Twin Peaks but not that show's occasionally overtly self-conscious weirdness. This was long before we were spoiled by HBO's radical reinvention of the television series. Northern Exposure's then-contemporary brilliance looks a bit dated now, even though it's lost none of its charm. The tale of a transplanted, neurotic New York doctor to a remote and quirky small town in Alaska always struck a particular chord in this country, especially for anyone who's spent time in northern hamlets with the kind of urban refugees who inhabit them. And, unlike most Canadian television, this American show is not afraid to revel in its snow-bound locale, with parkas and snow boots the height of fashion. Though the plight of Dr. Joel Fleischmann provides an entry point to the series, anyone of the supporting characters could easily float an entire series of their own. Yet occasionally the writers milk a shtick for far more than its worth, such as the implausible romance between the 60-something Holling and the 20-year-old naïf Shelly, or the leather-clad film geek Ed, who's written as more of an idiot savant than he deserves to be. But characters like the feisty and seriously crush-worthy Maggie O'Connell and the cantankerous ex-astronaut Maurice Middlefield drive some of the best episodes with their internal struggles with arrogance and self-doubt. The acting is uniformly excellent, which makes it baffling why only one of the actors (John Corbett of Sex and the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) went on to have any kind of serious film career. As a DVD package however, this sparse series counts on quality over quantity: only seven episodes on two discs. The first season only had eight; it wasn't until the third season that the show was granted a full production schedule. Plus: deleted scenes, bloopers, zippered thermal packaging. (Universal)