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DVD Review: Northern Exposure: The Complete First Season

by Chris Parry

Few TV shows have managed to transform the televisual landscape as Northern Exposure did. Coming into existence during a time where our square screens were filled with Full House-style family sitcoms, rugged cop shows and America's Stupidest Home Videos, Northern Exposure awakened the audience from its slumber to realize that, yes, TV could be every bit as good, every bit as smart, and every bit as well written as a good movie. It opened the door to character-driven ensemble TV, and that door has stayed open since, even in this new era of reality crap. It created characters that stayed in our minds way after the series ended - Having a petulant tantrum is now considered to be 'having a Fleischman', while a guy who can be in touch with his sensitive side and quote poetry is a total 'Chris in the morning'. And exactly how long will it take for someone to finally give Ed his own series? We're still waiting....

"Moose burger or caribou dog?"

Sure, Northern Exposure was cliche. Take a walk around Anchorage and chances are you'll find the airport has more than once door, and that not everyone has a deer carcass draped across the hood of their truck. But it never really mattered whether Northern Exposure was accurate or not, because it was about far more than the setting. It could easily have been set in Wyoming or Saskatchewan or Vermont. What was far more important was the collection of characters that inhabited the mythical town of Cicely Alaska, with its one bar/restuarant/cafe and single outpost grocery store.

There was Fleischman, the 'helplessness junkie' doctor stuck in a remote part of the world in servitude for having his medical school fees paid by the fine state of AK. There was Maggie, the pilot with a poor record of keeping her fiances alive. Who can forget Maurice, the former astronaut with more money than god and less social skills than your average doberman, or Hollings, the aging barkeep with a teen bride and a distinctly sordid past?

Certainly I never have, and it's why I was all over this box set like a rash. Presented in a cool ass orange ski parka cover (see picture), the first impression this collection makes is outfreakingstanding. I mean - it's like your DVDs are going to Whistler for vacation!

Okay, so I'm totally geeking out, but why wouldn't I? First time around, I only saw Northern Exposure halfway through the season, and as always happens with TV, life got in the way of sticking to a rigid schedule and seeing every episode, so to have them all in one place, with tons of bonus features, is nothing short of a fanboy's wet dream.

But there is a downside - in fact, it's a considerable one. The first season debuted midway through the traditional TV schedule, so the 'season one' that went to air only actually had eight episodes, including the series pilot. Since the producers shot an entire season of shows before going to air, this means that many shows from what was initially considered to be the first season didn't go to air until a year later.

Now, in some parts of the DVD world, this would have meant that season one and two would have gone into one DVD package - 15 episodes in total, with some extras. Unfortunately, that's not the case here, and instead of giving fans more, the powers that be decided to give them only those first eight episodes, with a stack of extras thrown in - the equivalent of four disc sides of content. That's not bad I suppose, but when the bar has been raised so highly by DVD releases like Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Season (which had six discs packed full of episodes and extras), which only costs a few dollars more than this Northern Exposure release, it takes a little wind out of a fan's sails.

Northern Exposure: The Complete First Season does contain over two hours of outtakes, extended and deleted scenes, footage from film sequences shot within the series, unexposed footage, video documentary footage... and that's all nice, but there isn't a commentary to be found on any of the discs.

I can't help but think that, with the DVD of the second season looming, the excitement many felt about having these shows on DVD is somewhat dampened by the lack of presentation on the discs themselves. While the first impression is nothing short of awesome (come on, the little zipper has a moose on it!), the disc itself relies really heavily on the quality of the show, and nothing more. Thankfully, the quality of the show is second to none, and if you are, like I am, a massive fan, you can even forgive your disappointment that what should have been a great, quirky box set ends up being just an average box set.

At full retail price of $59, this isn't by any means a good deal, but if you can find it discounted to around $40 or less (and you can, right here), by all means grab a hold of it and keep it in your collection. And keep an eye out for season two, because that's when the show really picked up in storyline, production value and quality.

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originally posted: 11/20/04 10:17:36
last updated: 12/30/04 22:06:28
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