For one, the Dr. Joel Fleischman's fish-out-of-water story actually changes. It's the basis of the show, at least initially, but New York City transplant Joel, like those of us watching, comes to appreciate Cicely, Alaska for the wonderful and unique place that it is. Sure, he still nebbishly misses his bagels once in a while, but all in all, it's refreshing to see a main character not being written in such a way that his initial premise becomes the sum total of his promise.
And ah, what can one say about Janine Turner's Maggie O'Connell? The fact that a woman of this talent and unbearable beauty has been reduced to pharmaceutical infomercials may just show how creatively bankrupt Hollywood is these days. Seriously, not even a stint on Desperate Housewives? C'mon.
But Morrow and Turner aren't really the "stars" of Northern Exposure (the realization of which may have led to Morrow's disappointing early exit in season four). The supporting cast is vital to the success of the show. To wit:
--Maurice Minnefield (Barry Corbin) is a retired astronaut, the wealthiest guy in town, and all around jackass. But like all characters, Maurice is a complex guy. Even when he's a jerk, he's sympathetic. And seriously, it's no surprise that the writers named him Maurice. This guy is the picture perfect space cowboy.
--Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) is the town mayor, but his main job is the owner and operator of The Brick, which is the bar and restaurant that serves Cicely. It's the sort of place you'd like to frequent, much like Cicely itself. And even-tempered but surprisingly powerful senior citizen Holling is the exact sort of guy you'd like tending bar.
--Ed Chigliak (Darren Burrows) is an intelligent and distracted young native Alaskan. Some have attributed his lack of understanding of social graces (saved by his sensitive nature and innate sincerity) to perhaps being Asperger's Syndrome, but personally, I just like to think that he's a naïve and sweet kid who grows nicely over the course of the series.
--Chris Stevens (John Corbett) is a complex guy who's ladies man, ex-con, philosopher, morning disc jockey, and poet (and a whole lot more) all rolled into one. His radio show, Chris in the Morning, is a pastiche of music, spoken word, news, and stream-of-consciousness discussions of literature and philosophy that I profoundly wish existed in the real world.
But then, what part of this show wouldn't be wonderful to actually experience in real life? We talk a lot about television being realistic, and when we do, we're often talking about how gritty it is, how depressing it is, how shocking. Northern Exposure is exactly the opposite of that, while still feeling "real." It's comfortable. It's hopeful. It's reassuring. And instead of talking down to its audience, Northern Exposure reaches out a winter-gloved hand, takes you in its firm grip, and invites us up to join it. Into Cicely, Alaska, where all the men are philosophical, all the women are wise, and all the writing above-average. -- Teague Bohlen