Thursday, November 10, 2011

You Can Leave, But Just Don't Go: Northern Exposure The Complete Sixth Season Sinks!

The Good: Performances are mostly fine, Moments of character
The Bad: Drawn out exit of Morrow, Character development is terrible, Plots are repetitive and droll, Prevalence of "alternate universe" episodes.
The Basics: As Dr. Fleischman makes his departure from Cicely, Northern Exposure Season Six degenerates into something untenably bad.

Watching classic television shows, it makes me wonder sometimes how the phrase "jump the shark" did not come into the popular vernacular much, much sooner. So many television shows that people called "great" go out with such a whimper as opposed to ending while at their peak or while there is still a respectable level of quality. Shows like Homicide: Life On The Street had to retool completely for its seventh season (reviewed here!) and in the sixth season of Northern Exposure, the show starts falling down and it just keeps falling. Rather obviously, Rob Morrow planned a departure from the show and the series worked to contain the fallout. But, given how awkward the season begins, the departure of Rob Morrow was not the only problem with the show, but it was the death knell.

Part of the problem with the sixth season of Northern Exposure is that Morrow as Fleischman just keeps leaving. As a result, when the character finally makes his last departure, it is anticlimactic. At least as bad is that he is replaced with two characters - the new Doctor, Phillip Capra, and his wife, Michelle - who do not truly pop. The sign that the show was terminal before the Morrow problem, though, was certainly the sheer volume of "alternate universe" episodes. Northern Exposure innovated well the idea of realities outside the main cast's lives - flashback episodes wherein the main cast played historical figures, dream episodes and the like - but when they continued to do episodes like that, especially early in the season before the characters could be re-established in the new season - it robbed the season of actual, genuine, character development.

After a story involving the history of Cicely in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Joel encountering the Ghosts Of Yom Kippur Past, Present & Future, Joel and Maggie have a serious falling out. In the wake of their break up, Joel heads north and begins to live off the land in a remote portion of Alaska. This forces Maurice to bring Dr. Capra and his wife to town. After a few weeks of settling in with Michelle, Dr. Capra begins to become a part of the community, buying land and even getting involved with the one Italian neighborhood in the village. And when Joel's term in Alaska is up, he makes his exit through an unlikely quest and supernatural methods.

When O'Connell returns to Cicely, she runs for mayor and butts heads with Ruth-Anne. More serious is that Chris realizes he has a severe crush on her and though she initially rejects him, the two begin moving toward an actual relationship. As Capra and Michelle negotiate their relationship, Ed tries to stand on his own and Maurice finds himself reunited with Officer Barbara Semanski.

Northern Exposure moves toward its inevitable end with little enthusiasm, though the show continues to upend the main characters. While Holling and Shelly have remarkably little to do in the sixth season - despite the appearance of another apparently illegitimate child of Holling's - the rest of the main characters have severe changes in their arcs. The two new characters are not nearly as interesting as one might hope and ironically, Teri Polo as Michelle easily outshines Paul Provenza's Dr. Capra. Outside the "alternate universe" experiences, most of the show treads where it has gone before and while things happen to the characters, they do not truly develop, grow or change.

The main characters in the sixth season of Northern Exposure include:

Maggie O'Connell - After years of an on and off relationship with Dr. Fleischman, they move in together and then figure out they cannot get it to work. When she and Joel break up for good, she runs for Mayor and wins. As well, she buys the abandoned local movie theater and becomes an entrepreneur. After a disastrous attempt to get trash pickup in town, she gets the lead in the town play, opposite Chris. In addition to bowling, she begins to open to Chris's advances,

Dr. Joel Fleischman - After realizing how poorly he treats his peers, he goes A.W.O.L. After being sure that Dr. Capra will take care of his community, he makes his way back to the place he has always wanted to be,

Chris Stevens - Despite being devastated that Joel has abandoned Cicely, he gets his Masters degree in Comparative Literature. After trying to champion Maggie's trash initiative, he aids her in bowling, acts opposite her and ultimately learns to dance to be closer to her,

Holling - Reluctantly takes on his "illegitimate son" and thwarts Maurice's attempts to take over his daughter's life,

Shelly - Settles in to being a mother and gets a little jealous when she is cast as a waitress in the town play,

Marilyn - Adapts to Dr. Capra's presence and learns that Joel actually has the ability to change,

Ruth-Anne - Hires Walt as a favor, but realizes she cannot work with the man she has fallen in love with,

Dr. Phillip Capra - Moves in to Cicely, then begins to rediscover his Italian roots. He and his wife Michelle have a falling out when he tries to control her life and activities,

Michelle Schodowski Capra - Not used to the cold in Alaska, she becomes impatient with Phil's sudden agoraphobia. She is a writer and happily becomes a reviewer for the local paper, which causes problems with the Vincour's. She chooses the simplicity of becoming a waitress over sticking close to Phillip,

Ed - Continues his Shaman training and even dates the Chief's daughter. His film career fizzles and he does a little work as a private eye. He has a falling out with Maurice and problems with Ruth-Anne, though he helps Capra assimilate better,

and Maurice Minnifield - Distressed over the dropping population, he takes out his anger on Ed. When the rogue violinist resurfaces, he is reunited with Officer Semanski. He is pissed when Chris has a party in his home and he invites most of the town up to Tranquillity Base, his cottage away from Cicely in order to end the series.

Northern Exposure is neither funny nor dramatically significant in its sixth season. It is merely an ending of a series that had overstayed its welcome. Not at all essential, even for fans of the show.

For other final seasons of television shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Frasier - Season 11
The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven


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

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

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