I already reviewed Northern Exposure Season One a few months ago, so I'll start this off by being brutally honest: I don't really have anything new to add on the subject of this show, but loved it so much I selfishly took Season 2 DVD to review simply because I wanted it and I could. Disgusted? Good. Now hang in there why I revisit all the reasons that "Northern Exposure" is/was so damned good, hopefully reworded to sound slightly different than whatever it was I said in my Season One DVD review.
For those of you who have never seen the show or didn't watch the Season One DVD set, "Northern Exposure" is television show set in the remote, yet fairly liberal-minded and wacky Alaskan town of Cicely. The show begins in Season One when they forcibly hire an extremely Jewish (almost Woody Allen Jewish), extremely New York doctor named Joel Fleischman. Forced to live in Alaska against his wishes, the show is basically a fish out of water story with Joel at its center interacting and struggling to cope with the insane small town people around him. Throw into the mix some healthy sexual tension between Fleischman and the town's local bush pilot Maggie O'Connell and you've got a show. Season Two continues right on with what the original eight episodes of Season One started, by contributing another seven episodes of its own.
I still don't quite understand why a "Northern Exposure" season seems to equal eight or less episodes and yet any other show except the “Sopranos” manages to crank out well more than twenty. Season Two has reminded me of just how annoyed I was at the time, to be forced to watch the same episodes over and over again while every other show on television was still cranking out new stuff. Then again, perhaps a low episode count is how they kept the quality so high. If any of you know why they kept turning in so few, email me to clue me in.
The seven we do get in Season Two are almost all fantastic, and for the most part a marked improvement over the already wonderful stuff we got in Season One. Benefiting from the show's now much surer footing is the relationship between Maggie and Joel, which finally starts to feel natural after a first season of forced incompatibility and ill-fitting sexual attraction. They still argue and bicker endlessly, but when the season's first episode has Joel dumped by his fiancée, it works better within the confines of their new relationship as they both start to acknowledge that yes, perhaps they are hot and heavy for one another. "Northern Exposure's" great cast of oddballs only improves as well, with Ed getting a few hilarious episodes involving his past and his virginity, and Chris sort of establishing himself as the background voice of the series through his Cicely radio show. Mixed in there is even a bit of Cicely male nudity, as the men of the town engage in an annual festival that's basically an excuse for them all to run nude through the snow while all the women watch.
Six of the seven episodes in Season Two are unquestionably perfect tidbits of quirky, intelligent television. Nice, gradual, natural improvements in character and comfort over the already great beginning of the previous year. Six are perfect, one is a complete wreck. Episode 14, entitled "War and Peace" has Cicely visited by a Soviet celebrity, a friend of the town and frequent vacationer. Things get really strange as the town inexplicably starts decorating itself with Soviet flags and obsessing over all things Russian. Their visitor gets in an argument with Maurice, Maurice challenges him to a duel... and then in one of the most bizarre and outright horrible moments in TV history Joel steps into the middle of the fight and asks everyone to step outside the script. According to Joel, they should just skip this scene since we all know what will happen anyway, and move on to a nice scene at the bar where there will be some better writing for the show and also hopefully some better acting. He steps outside the reality of the show to remind us that this is just a show... in a movie that makes so little sense that later when he and Maggie discuss it and try to frame it in the reality of the show itself, I think my head actually exploded. It's a wonder the series wasn't immediately cancelled after this episode aired.
Fortunately, things rebounded in Episode 15 and "NE" pumps right back up to its normal quality. Despite containing one of the worst and most confusing episodes of anything in the history of television, "Northern Exposure" otherwise turns in a great second season. A must see for lovers of pop culture, cold weather, moose themed credit sequences, or just flat out great television.
Have you seen the "Complete First Season" disc? Good. Get a marker, color the parka wrapper yellow, change the "1" to a "2" and you have "Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season". This release is nearly identical to the first one, and differentiates itself from it only by having one less episode for exactly the same amount of money.
It still bothers me that they're giving you so few episodes for such a hefty forty dollar price. The first two seasons should have been packaged together in one set and sold to consumers. They haven't been, and if they were no doubt Universal would then charge eighty dollars instead of forty, so I guess we should just live with it.
As did the Season One set, the Season Two set only contains two special features of note. Each episode is included with a reel of deleted scenes, and then a second reel of unexposed footage. Unlike the stuff on the Season One set, some of the deleted scenes are actually interesting and most of the unexposed footage is ridiculously funny. There's also quite a lot of it, so their not shortchanging you on that front.
Otherwise, this is another pretty bare-bones "Northern Exposure" DVD release. Then again, this is about the sort of thing we've come to expect from TV on DVD. It's great because the show is great and you can watch a big stack of episodes all in one sitting. That makes "Northern Exposure - The Complete Second Season" well worth buying, as longs you skip over the dicey Episode 14.