Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is about to get a rude wake-up call. With his education financed by the state of Alaska, Fleischman finds his plans for four years in Anchorage are dashed when he learns that he’s been traded to the small town of Cicely, Alaska. Fleischman finds the town filled with odd people like the outspoken Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner), the former astronaut Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), hippy DJ Chris Stevens (John Corbett), Native American Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows), bar owner Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum), Holling’s young girlfriend Shelly (Cynthia Geary), and Joel’s unwanted secretary Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles). Joel is about to discover that Alaska is not like New York City.
Northern Exposure—Season 1 was a summer series that premiered on July 12, 1990 and ran eight episodes until August 30, 1990. The series was met with positive reviews and quickly gained a cult following. The season received Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (“Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale for Big People”), and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (“Pilot”).
I latched on to Northern Exposure pretty early and became a regular viewer during this short season. The series had the quirkiness of a comedy but drama as well and was much better balanced than some of the other series in a similar vein. The first season kicks off with a bang and the series runs strong.
Northern Exposure’s plots are pretty consistent. The series early episodes are as strong as episodes later in the run (the series does lose momentum when Rob Morrow leaves), and the only difference is the familiarity with the characters. It is nice to go back to the early episodes having watched the run and see the show as you are getting to know characters.
The cast is the plus of the series. Rob Morrow plays a less manic Woody Allen and is sometimes unlikable (like trying to secretly get $50,000 without telling Maggie in “Soapy Sanderson”). The other characters are also frustrating, but not frustrating enough for you to hate any of them. Janine Turner’s Maggie is often standoffish, Barry Corbin’s Maurice is bullheaded, Darren E. Burrows’ Ed is intrusive, etc. It works with the quirky storytelling.
The visuals are also great. Shot mostly around the state of Washington, the series makes the most of the scenery. The town of Roslyn, Washington (hence the Roslyn Café) is the town of Cicely. It is also has some great sets that set the tone.
Northern Exposure is a series that has stood up over the years. The Alaskan setting doesn’t make it as dated as some of the other series since it is already in a weird otherworldly city. If you watched Northern Exposure, revisit it, and if you never watched Northern Exposure, you should take a trip to Cicely, Alaska.
Northern Exposure—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:
1.1 Pilot Airdate: 07/12/90
Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) find himself “indentured” to Alaska who paid his medical bill at Columbia. Arriving in Anchorage, Joel discovers his contract has been bought by Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) for the town of Cicely Alaska. With a landlord named Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner) who he immediately finds himself at odds with, a Native-American named Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) who shows up when he wants, a secretary named Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) who refuses to listen to him, Joel finds his next four years could be difficult. Plus, Maurice and Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) find that burying the hatchet over Shelley Tambo (Cynthia Geary) could be difficult.
1.2 Brains, Know-How and Native Intelligence Airdate: 07/19/90
Maurice finds himself at odds with his DJ Chris Stevens (John Corbett) when Chris reads Walt Whitman on the air and talks about his homosexuality. Joel learns that Ed’s uncle (Frank Salsedo) has a medical issue that he can’t solve as a medicine man and Joel must find a way to convince him to come to him as a patient.
1.3 Soapy Sanderson Airdate: 07/26/90
Joel meets and tends to Soapy Sanderson (John McLiam) who promptly commits suicide. When Joel and Maggie learn that Soapy has left him his land, Joel finds that the land is in high demand by the Native Americas in the tune of $50,000. Joel goes for a secret backroom deal with the Native Americans while Maggie tries to turn the land into a nature preserve with students of Soapy chronicling Soapy with Ed.
1.4 Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens Airdate: 07/26/90
Maurice brings in Japanese business men in the hopes of getting a resort built in Cicely and Fleischman realizes it could be his chance out of Alaska if he gets the sale sealed. Shelley finds herself pregnant and going to get married to Holling…but getting Maurice to perform at the ceremony could be a challenge if Holling even goes through with the wedding.
1.5 The Russian Flu Airdate: 08/09/90
Elaine (Jessica Lundy) is coming to visit Joel, but Cicely is struck by a case of flu. As Joel tends to everyone getting sick, a fear the Russians are behind the flu puts the town in an uproar. Marilyn has a homemade tribal remedy that puts Joel at odds with her.
1.6 Sex, Lies and Ed’s Tapes Airdate: 08/16/90
Holling learns Shelly was married and is still married to a guy named Wayne (Brandon Douglas) and decides he can’t live with her until she’s divorced…giving Wayne another shot. Maggie’s boyfriend Rick (Grant Goodeve) has a health scare and questions if Maggie is really a curse. Ed tries to find his muse for his movie among the people of Cicely.
1.7 A Kodiak Moment Airdate: 08/23/90
Maurice learns his brother has died and realizes his own mortality…with his need for an heir in Chris. Jessie the Bear is back and Holling realizes he must confront his nemesis. Enraged that Joel forced her to pick up bagels, Joel gets Maggie to join him on a mission to teach hygiene in Boswell only to discover that he’s needed to teach childbirth.
1.8 Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups Airdate: 08/30/90
The aurora borealis is coming and the Northern Lights are stirring up all kinds of weird behavior in Cicely. Chris is obsessed with his art and a new visitor drawn to Cicely named Bernard (Richard Cummings Jr.) could bring a new mystery. Joel learns of a local “creature” called Adam that could be real or a myth…but what is Adam (Adam Arkin)?