Throwback TV: Northern Exposure

Over the holidays, I have time to pour through several seasons of whichever television series I desire. I already wrote about my experiences with Homeland Season 2.

Perhaps I was the most excited about delving back into the 90’s, the era of my youth, to get a couple of years under my belt of a show I was too young to care about when it was on TV. My love for 90’s television needs quenching every now and then, and even I realize that it must go beyond my annual re-watching of Twin Peaks, or My So-Called Life.

I wanted to get into Northern Exposure, the fish out of water show about a New York doctor who is basically forced to work in Cicely, Alaska to pay off his student loans.

northern_exposureTwo days and two seasons later, I love the show. There are so many great, quirky things about it, that it goes beyond your typical TV show. It is much smarter than it would originally seem, and this came to a head while watching Season 2, Episode 6 (“War and Peace”). In this episode, the show did something I had never seen before.

They completely, and knowingly, stepped out of a scene to make an important social commentary on the First Gulf War and our nature as a warring society. The actors stopped their acting, discussing the fact that they were being watched by an intelligent audience. With cleverness, they skipped the scene they were in the middle of doing, discussed using one of the possible script revisions, and the actors discussed their characters. It was odd, but it was brilliant, and it really worked. Once their couple of minutes had passed, they moved on to the next scene that they had discussed, since one of the characters told us that “it was a good scene.”

I thought that a show being socially conscious and not only existing within the borders it had created for itself was a bold and interesting move. I really appreciated this as a viewer. It gave the audience credit for being an audience, and gave us credit for knowing that this was not the real world that we were watching, but that, in fact, there was a real world that existed outside of our television sets. Well played.

There are so many other things to enjoy about this show. The best parts, for me, are the highly intellectual radio DJ, Chris, who takes time to read Whitman and Tolstoy over the airwaves, much to the pleasure of his fans in town. For a town under 900, one would not expect them to appreciate this, but they adore Chris and respect his philosophical and literate views on life. There is also Ed, a teenager who knows his way around town, and loves Woody Allen while desiring to become a screenwriter or filmmaker when he gets older. And Maggie, the tough and sassy bush pilot who obviously becomes the love interest for the show, who has a curse where all of her previous boyfriends have died in odd fashion, including freezing to death on a glacier or being hit by a falling satellite.

There are six seasons of this show, and I am excited to see where it goes. There is a certain amount of predictability with the character arcs, things that I know will happen. But there are so many interesting and quirky secondary characters, that I am very much interested to watch the rest and see where they are taken.

This show was originally recommended to me by my tattoo artist, and I pass along the recommendation to those who have a soft spot for 90’s TV.

Oh, and to satisfy my Twin Peaks nerdiness and obsession, there is an episode in Season 2 where they make direct reference to the show, apparently spotting the Log Lady through a viewfinder while the music changed to a somber, Peaks-inspired tune. Brilliant.

3 thoughts on “Throwback TV: Northern Exposure

  1. Most Alaskans I have met do not like the show but since I am a transplant I guess they allow me that one vice of rambling on about how great Northern Exposure is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s