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Thursday, May 23, 2024


Jen and I are continuing to binge-watch Northern Exposure. Sometimes it’s just one episode, sometimes two or more at a time. I’m noticing things that blew completely past me when this was first on teevee (1990-1995).

Character development is, so far, radically uneven. Specifically, the male cast members seem to have their rich backstories revealed sooner. Fer instance:

Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), the insufferable ex-astronaut, macho patriot, mega-millionaire who wants to defile the natural beauty around Cicely, Alaska by transforming it into a into a vast tourist complex. He seems to think that he owns all of Cicely and the residents are no more than employees or extras in his life. His character begins as a completely two-dimensional stereotype of your basic narcissistic asshole. Within a half dozen episodes we learn that, despite Maurice's accomplishments and efforts, his father much preferred his brother and made no effort to conceal this. Maurice was, essentially, Cinderella. It also comes out that he thought he’d, more or less, purchased a beauty contest winner to be his girlfriend/wife (but she leaves him for another in short order).

All this and he learns and grows a bit in each episode. At this point, I almost don’t even hate him anymore.

Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary) on the other hand, is the shallow, simple young beauty pageant winner and is now a barmaid/waitress. She left Maurice for the owner of the town’s bar/restaurant. Shelly has moments of grace and sweetness but is generally none to bright and occasionally petty. So far, she’s not displayed any detectable-to-the-human-eye depth. Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics have more going on.

Ed Chigliak (Darren E, Burrows) comes off at first as an amiable yet tactless, gentle if aimless soul. In each episode more about him comes out—e.g., he’s a knowledgeable film buff who wants to write and direct movies. It’s soon clear that he’s more wise than he initially seems. 

Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner) should be a bright, strong, deep character. She’s a bush pilot from a wealthy Michigan family. Her role, at this point in our viewing, is possibly the worst written and most squandered opportunity. The writers could have created a rural Alaskan Katherine Hepburn. What did we get? A manipulative, always suspicious, harridan who, on rare occasion, exhibits a flash of wisdom. Honestly, Maggie seems to suffer from bipolar disorder (manic depression) but is generally mired at the cranky, mean asshole end of the spectrum.

It came as no surprise to me when I read that the actor who played Maggie is now a Cheato supporting “christian.”

The male characters are given emotionally richer personalities with more capacity for growth. The women? They’re drawn pretty damned simplistically. The series was written by Joshua Brand and John Falsey. They're clearly talented BUT I hope they got to know a few women. Mebbe they eventually learned how to write us vagina toters with the same breadth and capacity as they write male characters.

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