Sunday, April 12, 2015

Northern Exposure: An Afterword (or Two)

by Pa Rock
Television Junkie

Since canceling my satellite provider last month, the odious Direct TV, I have had to become rather inventive in the ways that I manage to get my television fix.  I am watching some programs on the free version of Hulu, and others are from my collection of DVD's.  Shortly before going to Okinawa in 2010 for a two-year stay, I purchased several television series on DVD because I remembered how awful television selection had been when I lived on the same island in the early 1970's.  Fortunately, this time I was able to get satellite service, and I returned to the States in 2012 with several of my DVD series unopened.  Northern Exposure was one of those unwatched shows.

Northern Exposure, essentially the tale of a young Jewish doctor from New York City who heads to Anchorage in the first episode as part of an agreement for paying back his student loans by working in the large Alaskan city for four years.  Unfortunately for Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) he is re-routed at the last minute to the small town of Cicily, Alaska - population around 800.  Dr. Fleischman is not happy about his new assignment, but he is unable to break his contractual agreement and is forced to become a functioning part of the community.

Northern Exposure ran for six seasons, 1990 through 1995, with 110 episodes.  That was a busy time in my life, but I was able to watch the series occasionally and knew that it was one of the better television achievements.  My father and I seldom agreed on much, but Northern Exposure was one of his favorite programs and several times we sat and enjoyed the show together.

I am now viewing the series, episode by episode, and am about halfway through the fourth season.    Not only am I amazed at how well it has held up over the past twenty-plus years, I remain extremely impressed at the top-notch writing and acting skills that went into the show.   The story lines, though somewhat quirky, were always exceptional.

A few weeks ago while listening to my car radio, I heard an advertisement for Walgreen's.   I immediately recognized the voice of the announcer as Chris - "Chris in the Morning," the philosophical radio disc jockey who woke the folks of Cicily from their slumbers each morning.   A quick check of the Internet showed that John Corbett (Chris Stevens) had indeed become the voice of Walgreen's.  Further reading showed that Corbett (born 1961) actually is a native of Wheeling, West Virginia, the city that Chris Stevens always claimed as the setting for his troubled youth.

After Northern Exposure ended, John Corbett continued his acting career.  He has appeared in several movies and was a featured actor in the television series Parenthood, United States of Tara, and Sex in the City.   Corbett has also been involved in a long-term relationship with actress Bo Derek.

Barry Corbin (born 1940) played former astronaut Maurice Minnifield on Northern Exposure.  After leaving the astronaut program, Maurice became a successful businessman who owned quite a bit of property in and around Cicily and got a good deal of satisfaction out of trying to exercise his economic muscle over the town's other residents.   Corbin still appears in film and television, and he has been featured in episodes of Anger Management and Modern Family.  He currently lives with his daughter on a horse ranch in Texas.

Janine Turner (born 1962) also lives with her daughter on a ranch in Texas.  Turner played the role of Maggie O'Connell, a young, independent pilot in the television series.  Maggie had had a series of unfortunate relationships in which each of her boyfriends wound up dead in freak situations.   Boyfriend number five, Rick Pederson, played by Grant Goodeve, was with her when the series began,  but he was killed off in the second season when he was struck by a falling satellite.  Such was poor Maggie's luck with men.   Janine Turner still works in films, and she had a regular role in two more television series:  Friday Night Lights and Strong Medicine.

John Cullum (born 1930) was Holling Vincoeur, the owner of a tavern/cafe called "The Brick."  Holling, a mature and somewhat rough character in his sixties, was in love and living with Shelly Tambo, his beautiful waitress who was somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty.  In real life, Cullum has been married to the same woman since 1959.  Since leaving Northern Exposure he has appeared in film and on television.  Some of his television credits include The Middle and Law and Order:  SVU.  I had the pleasure of seeing John Cullum on Broadway in 2009 where he appeared in the stage production of August, Osage County.

Darren E. Burrows (born 1966) portrayed Ed Chigliak, a Indian foundling who had grown up in Cicily and become the town's handyman, deliveryman, and amateur filmmaker.  Burrows was married in 1993 and is now the father of four.  He has appeared in film and on television in recent years, and had roles in Steven Spielberg's Amistad and John Waters Cry-Baby.

Cynthia Geary (born 1961) was Holling's young girlfriend and waitress, Shelly Marie Tambo.  Ms. Geary has done occasional film work since leaving Northern Exposure.  She is married with two children.

Elaine Miles played Marilyn, Dr. Fleishman's very quiet and thoughtful Native American office manager.   She also has been involved in film and television work since leaving the series.

Peg Phillips (born 1918) was the oldest member of the cast.  She portrayed Ruth-Anne Miller, the owner of the local general store.  After leaving the series Ms. Phillips worked in community theatre in Washington state until her death in 2002.  An interesting footnote about Peg Phillips is that she was a Navy wife living on Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Rob Morrow (born 1962), was Dr. Joel Fleischman.  He continued working in movies and on television.  Morrow is perhaps best known for his work as the lead in the hit TV series Numb3rs which ran from 2005-2010.

Over the six-year run of the show there were numerous individuals who directed the episodes of Northern Exposure.  The writing, as mentioned earlier, was excellent and managed to sustain its high quality and originality throughout the run of the series.  But it was the actors, the ensemble cast of characters with whom we all could identify, who held the show together and gave it the sparkle that made Northern Exposure one of the most memorable and entertaining television programs of its time - or, indeed, of any time.

Northern Exposure is well worth a re-visit.  It does not disappoint.

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