Thursday, November 17, 2011

Repetition Does Not A Hit Make; Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season Freezes.

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of humor
The Bad: Repeats much of the same stuff we've seen before, Nothing great on the plots.
The Basics: In a somewhat disappointing season with excellent DVD extras, Northern Exposure does little to progress and more to repeat.

It's a rare thing that I give a television series a second chance when the first season underwhelms me. After picking up Northern Exposure - The Complete First Season (reviewed here!), I found myself largely unimpressed by the series and yet, as part of a sale, I was able to pick up Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season cheap, so I figured I'd see if the series got any better as it went on. Sadly, on DVD Northern Exposure is just more of the same in the complete second season.

Dr. Joel Fleischman, trapped in his contract in Cicely, Alaska as the town doctor, is dumped by his fiancé, which frees him up to continue his love-hate relationship with local pilot Maggie O'Connell more or less unfettered. Fleischman treats the locals, who this season hallucinate (or simply see a long-dead Indian spirit, depending on perspective), lose their voice, decide to get circumcised, and run naked through the streets. As well, he poses as Maggie's boyfriend for her father and succumbs to her sense of destiny when she dreams his death.

The superlative moments in the second season of Northern Exposure all come in the last three episodes ("Spring Break," "War and Peace," and "Slow Dance"), by which time most viewers who have already sat through season one will likely have been turned off by the repetitiveness of the series. In "Spring Break," there's a wonderful parody of Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love" video with Fleischman dreaming an erotic dream, in "War and Peace," Maurice engages in a duel with a Russian and the result is a hilarious breaking of the fourth wall, and in "Slow Dance," the O'Connell curse returns with a vengeance to dispatch Rick.

The problem, for those keeping score, is that Rick was dispatched in season one. Frustrated with his belief in the O'Connell curse when he fears he might be seriously ill, Maggie dumped her fellow pilot, which left her single at the end of the first season. Yet, come the second season premiere, Rick is back and no explanation is given for his return. This is more troubling on the character front than on the plot front; Maggie is consistently portrayed as a strong, independent woman who does not need a man, be it Fleischman or Rick. Why would she take Rick back if he believed she would be the death of him? This troubling character/plot point merely prolongs what the viewer begins to feel will be the inevitable hooking up of Fleischman and O'Connell. After all, in the second season premiere, Fleischman finds himself single.

As with the first season, Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season does not seem so eccentric and crazy as many people made it out to be. Instead, it has moments of amusement spread thin between long stretches of slow development and plotless episodes. The show is so much more about setting and characters who seem inorganically different (i.e. eccentric for the sake of being eccentric as opposed to any real motivation for eccentricity). While that may have had some appeal in the first season, come the second it feels largely repetitive.

But the show does manage to be about memorable character. In the second season of Northern Exposure, here is how the series finds the principles:

Dr. Joel Fleischman - Abandoned by his fiancé, Elaine, Fleischman continues his indentured servitude in Cicely while continually sparring with Maggie. He helps Maggie convince her father that he is her boyfriend to get her approval, helps Holling when the senior citizen decides to get circumcised, becomes conflicted about flying to New York when Maggie dreams of his death, and goes crazy with the rest of the town during the ice breakup,

Marilyn - Shows up and supports Fleischman,

Ed Chigliak - Goes in search of his father after trying to help Fleischman through his breakup with Elaine. He also falls in love with a farm girl and enlists Chris's help in wooing her after becoming an investigator in the rash of thefts in Cicely,

Chris Stevens - Loses his voice to a beautiful woman who is passing through town (which is hellish for a d.j.), writes poetry for Ed, exposes two of the town's founders for lesbians, and watches over the dead body of a stranger no one knows,

Shelly Tambo - Becomes a television addict when Holling gets a satellite dish, becomes enamored with the idea of her older beau getting circumcised, and becomes jealous of him when an old friend comes to town and they connect,

Holling Vincoeur - Gets Shelly a satellite dish (and regrets it), prepares to get circumcised for Shelly (and fears it), bullies his customers for a fight while waiting for the spring thaw (and gets it), is plagued by nightmares of a cinematic variety (and pays for it), and spends time reminiscing with an old friend who visits town (and has to explain it),

Maurice J. Minnifield - Works a real estate deal with two homosexuals who are willing to overpay on property he is looking to unload, fights a Soviet with whom he has a past, falls for a state trooper, has an annual affair with an astronaut groupie, and looks out for an unknown dead man in town,

and Maggie O'Connell - Helps Fleischman through his breakup with Elaine, helps restore Chris's voice through her sexual powers, and uses Joel to convince her father her taste in men has improved. This leads her to start dreaming of Fleischman and as a result, she becomes drawn to him and feels guilty when Rick is taken out.

Unfortunately, the moments of brilliance in the show - like the cast suddenly debating how to resolve a scene that is fast moving into a shooting duel - are few and far between and while the acting is good, none of the actors do anything they did not already do in season one. In short, none of the actors grow in terms of their acting ability across these eight episodes. Instead, they simply reprise their roles and let the viewer watch them do more of the same.

That's not bad in all cases. John Cullum, for example, uses the second season and the greater airtime he is allowed to make Holling a more vital and watchable character. Cullum does little new with Holling, but he appears more often, making his character more familiar and he plays the part well.

As with the first season of Northern Exposure, season two is packaged in a remarkably unhelpful padded package that tells the buyer nothing about the series. There is still nothing within the show to explain the bulky packaging. But the DVD extras are decent with a plethora of deleted scenes and "unexposed footage" for each episode. The unexposed footage is a collection of outtakes, alternate takes and gaffs that allow the dedicated viewer a virtual film school on the decisions of the director and editor on how to assemble an episode. But there are only eight episodes on two disc and that's not much value for this series.

But there's nothing really new here. Season two plods along and, in some ways, the viewer is simply waiting for Rick to get out of the picture to see how Joel and Maggie will hook up. The tension is there and the direction seems inevitable. Watching much of Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season calls to mind the Monty Python gag from The Holy Grail with hordes shouting to "Get on with it!" This season does not and ultimately, that's why it's take it or leave it.

I'd vote for "leave it."

For a better idea of what this set contains, please check out reviews of the individual episodes available, which include, "Spring Break," reviewed here!

For other sophomore seasons of quirky or interesting shows, please visit my reviews of:
Once And Again - Season Two
Weeds - Season 2
Strangers With Candy - The Complete Second Season


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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