New Doctor Adrift in Alaska

From the New York Times, July 12, 1990 • A Jason-K Exclusive!

by John J. O'Connor

On a plane to Alaska, Joel Fleischman, fresh out of medical school, is compulsively telling a complete stranger, "IÕm not kidding myself; Anchorage isnÕt New York." But he adds, "It isnÕt Cambodia, and it has five Chinese restaurants." Then, for no particular reason, he declares, "LetÕs face it, Jewish doctors are not exactly an endangered species."

Played deftly by Rob Morrow, Joel is the brash, sometimes obnoxious 27-year-old hero of "Northern Exposure," a new series that begins a limited run on CBS tonight at 10. It seems that Joel got his medical degree with the help of a loan from the State of Alaska. Now he must return the favor by spending at least four years of practice not in Anchorage, as he thought, but in a small hamlet called Cicely. The place doesnÕt have a single takeout restaurant. Joel desperately wants out, but his contract has no loopholes. Actually the series is being filmed in Washington State, within range of "Twin Peaks" territory, and the scenery is spectacular. WhatÕs to worry?

"Northern Exposure" is not throwaway summer fare. The series was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who are also the executive producers. Their past credits include "St. Elsewhere" and "A Year in the Life." They have carefully explained that "Northern Exposure" is a "fish-out-of-water show, not a disease-of-the-week show." Clearly Joel the city slicker will end up being softened and perhaps even enlightened by his new country cousins, who are certainly an appealingly odd lot.

Running Cicely is Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), a former astronaut who warmly assures Joel that the town is "delighted to have a Jew doctor from New York -- you guys have an outstanding reputation." Maurice is not speaking to his old friend Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum), who swiped his young girlfriend Shelly (Cynthia Geary), the former Miss Northwest Passage.

Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) hails from Grosse Pointe, Mich., and now owns her own plane and a shuttle service. Young Chris Stevens (John Corbett) is the local disk jockey who lives in a mobil home with a Boston woman he found wandering around the forest. And young Ed (Darren E. Burrows) is an American Indian with a keen interest in rhythm-and-blues and the films of Woody Allen.

Will Joel take readily to eating mooseburgers at the local Summer Wonderland Festival? Will he get used to the giant rats running around his log cabin? Can he cope wholly inadequate plumbing? Well, not right away. But by the end of next weekÕs episode, he has learned how to do an Indian dance and is beginning to take second and third looks at Maggie. ThatÕs after Maurice fires Chris the disk jockey for some comments he made over the air about Walt Whitman. But when Maurice takes over the radio show to play nothing but show tunes, the entire village rebels.

The show can get overly cute. ItÕs hard to believe that anyone these days, even in remote Alaska, hasnÕt heard of a bagel, frozen or otherwise. And at one point, a passing reference is made to "St. Elsewhere." Not necessary. But, like Joel, a good many viewers may discover that the characters kind of grow on you. A first-rate cast makes it all the more easy. As Ed says to Joel about the gamey mooseburgers, youÕll get used to it.

Northern Exposure is Copyright © Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Created 2/12/02
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