Magazine, May 20, 1991
EXPOSURE; CBS; Mondays; 10 p.m. EDT
a little town up north, out west. Everybody knows everybody else
-- and everybody else's business. Remoteness has given the community
a touch of spirituality, not to say weirdness. Several residents
have a propensity for prophetic dreams, and ghosts have been known
to walk down Main Street. So has the occasional moose.
Peaks? No, that was last year's quirky small town that gained
a cult following. The latest destination for fans of the outlandish
and the In-jokish on TV is the village of Cicely, hard by the Arctic
Circle in the state of Alaska. Among the town's 500 inhabitants
is one reluctant interloper: Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a New
York City native who has been forced to move there as the sole doctor
in order to fulfill his medical-school scholarship.
Exposure, which debuted last summer and has returned to CBS
for a late-season run, is this spring's hottest conversation piece.
Fans in big cities from New York to San Francisco are entranced
by the backwoods whimsy; so are Sunbelt viewers like Bonnie Mintz,
a court clerk from Winter Park, Fla., who started the first Northern
Exposure fan club. In Alaska the series has prompted some grumpy
newspaper stories (THIS MAN THINKS WE'RE A BUNCH OF PSYCHOTIC RED-NECKS,
blared one headline next to a picture of star Morrow),
but viewers are warming to it. Says Tom Tatka, an Anchorage attorney
who moved to Alaska 20 years ago: "It gives a good sense
of this isolated state." For creators Joshua
Brand and John Falsey (St. Elsewhere), it's really
a state of mind. "We used Alaska more for what it represents
than what it is," says Brand. "It is disconnected
both physically and mentally from the lower 48, and it has an attractive
show's popularity is no mystery. Northern Exposure is less
a realistic picture of Alaskan life than a big-city yuppie's romantic
small-town fantasy. There is no bigotry or narrow-mindedness in
this small town; the residents are all closet highbrows. The townspeople
read D.H. Lawrence and quote Voltaire; the local tavern plays Louis
Armstrong and Mildred Bailey on the jukebox. For Joel there's a
cute, available brunet (Janine
Turner) and a philosophical Native American pal (Darren
E. Burrows) who is conversant with movies like The Wages
of Fear. Gosh, it's not even that cold; the characters may
be bundled up in parkas, but we never see their breath. That's what
shooting near Seattle will do.
show has some nice touches. Joel's Jewishness is refreshingly up-front,
and it's good to see a few Native Americans on TV for a change.
But this domesticated Twin Peaks is too precious by half.
In one episode,
Joel's friend conjures up an Indian spirit to help locate his father;
the town deejay, meanwhile, has his voice stolen by a beautiful
girl. One whimsical fantasy per episode, please. The show's patronizing
attitude toward small towners is more subtle but just as annoying.
makes snide fun of the tavern owner's 19-year-old girlfriend, who
gets a satellite dish and becomes addicted to tacky TV fare like
Wheel of Fortune and the Home Shopping Network. God forbid
somebody in a remote Alaskan town should actually pass the time
watching TV. What would Voltaire think?