Release Date(s)1990-1996 (March 19th, 2018)
Studio(s)CBS/Universal Television (Fabulous Films/Freemantle Media)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION B locked Blu-ray release with SD bonus content in PAL format.]
A six-season CBS TV series from the 1990s, Northern Exposure is a comedy-drama that tells the “fish out of water” story of Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a freshly-minted New York City doctor who agrees to start a practice in Anchorage, Alaska to pay for his med school bills. But when he arrives in Anchorage, he learns that the city already has too many doctors, so he’s assigned to the tiny village of Cicely instead. There he meets a host of oddball characters including a retired astronaut (Barry Corbin, of WarGames fame), the local restauranteur and his wife, a storekeeper, a philosophizing radio DJ (Sex and the City’s John Corbett), a budding filmmaker and handyman, and an unlikely romantic interest in the local bush pilot Maggie (Janine Turner). Before long, and against his better judgement, Joel finds the town and its people growing on him… until it begins to feel like home.
Northern Exposure started as a midseason replacement on CBS in 1990 with only eight episodes. It was so popular, however, that another seven episodes were quickly commissioned for airing the following spring, at which point the network picked the show up as part of their regular fall line-up (Seasons 4-6 have the usual 23-25 episodes each). But the series wasn’t just a hit with audiences; it garnered critical acclaim as well and a host of award wins including the Peabody, the Golden Globe, and numerous Emmys (it was the Outstanding Drama Series of 1992). Save for Corbin and John Cullum (then a veteran stage and screen actor), the series’ cast was largely unknown at the time, but became overnight celebrities. Oddly, though, few of them aside from Corbett went on to bigger roles. Notable guest stars during the series’ run included Teri Polo, Bibi Besch, Adam Arkin, Anthony Edwards, and Graham Greene. Northern Exposure was not above the occasional cliché, but the series’ strength was its ability to show people from dramatically different backgrounds and cultures living together in harmony, supporting one another without reservation, and growing to appreciate one another’s eccentricities, all with unique mix of quirk and good humor that was rare in its day.
Released on DVD starting in 2006 by Universal Studios, the series has never had a Blu-ray release until now. Fabulous Films has produced a 24-disc Region B Blu-ray set (for the UK) that includes all 110 episodes in their original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio. Fortunately, the series was shot and finished natively on film, so each of these episodes has been scanned in 1080p HD. The image quality is generally quite good overall. It’s not exactly reference quality, as some of the episodes could probably stand a little bit more dust and dirt removal, and there appears to be a little bit of edge enhancement visible on occasion. But detail is solid, contrast is good, and the color accuracy and saturation are excellent. This is a nice looking presentation, certainly better than the original broadcast experience, and it’s a big improvement over the previous DVD release visually.
The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and the tracks sound great, with nice clarity and fidelity. The most important thing to note here though is that all of the original music appears to be included uncut on these episodes, as it originally aired on CBS. As diehard fans of the series will know, many tracks were subsequently replaced on the Universal DVD release of the series due to music rights costs and clearance issues. But a random sampling of these episodes on Blu-ray indicates that the original songs are indeed intact at long last. The only audio-related complaint about these discs is that the menu audio is too loud compared to the actual episode audio; you’ll want to turn down your volume when the menus load and then you’ll need to increase the volume when you select an episode. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles.
In terms of special features, it appears that most of the bonus content from the US DVD release has carried over here (in the original SD but converted to PAL 50i, as this is a UK release). This includes:
- Season Two, Disc One – Unexposed Footage (14:52), Deleted Scenes (17:47)
- Season Two, Disc Two – Unexposed Footage (18:30)
- Season Three, Disc One – Deleted Scenes (15:54)
- Season Three, Disc Two – Deleted Scenes (10:19)
- Season Three, Disc Three – Deleted Scenes (16:22)
- Season Three, Disc Four – Deleted Scenes (12:30)
- Season Three, Disc Five – Deleted Scenes (10:00)
- Season Four, Disc One – Promos (2:47), Gag Reels (13:58)
- Season Four, Disc Two – Deleted Scenes (11:27)
- Season Four, Disc Three – Deleted Scenes (19:56)
- Season Four, Disc Four – Deleted Scenes (14:13)
- Season Four, Disc Five – Deleted Scenes (16:49)
- Season Five, Disc One – Deleted Scenes (3:32)
- Season Five, Disc Two – Deleted Scenes (12:05)
- Season Five, Disc Three – Deleted Scenes (6:24)
- Season Five, Disc Four – Deleted Scenes (6:04)
- Season Five, Disc Five – Deleted Scenes (6:54)
- Season Six, Disc One – Deleted Scenes (7:48)
- Season Six, Disc Two – Deleted Scenes (4:46)
- Season Six, Disc Three – Deleted Scenes (10:30)
- Season Six, Disc Four – Deleted Scenes (8:54)
- Season Six, Disc Five – Deleted Scenes (6:52)
Not everything from the US DVD box set carries over however. Missing from Season One are the Deleted Scenes and Unexposed Footage. Season Two is missing some (but not all) of its Deleted Scenes as well. And Season Three is missing Ed’s Cutting Room Floor and Lost Storylines. The packaging offers the discs in plastic BD cases with a thin cardboard slipcase – you’ll want to take care not to damage it when you pull the discs in and out.
Northern Exposure has unfortunately dropped off the radar in recent years (for reasons that certainly include Universal’s music-compromised DVD release), so some of you will likely never have seen it before. Even if you have, though, the series is well worth revisiting on Blu-ray. (Don’t forget, you’ll need an all-region capable Blu-ray player to do so, as there’s no sign yet of a US BD release forthcoming from Universal.) Northern Exposure lacks the closure of a genuine finale, but its charms remain as effective as ever. The episodes Spring Break (featuring the “running of the bulls”) and Burning Down the House (which involves a trebuchet) are two of the great hours of network television from the early 1990s. Remember folks… it’s not the thing you fling, but the fling itself.
- Bill Hunt