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TV REVIEW : ‘Northern Exposure’: Right Rx for Summer Doldrums

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Joel Fleischman, a young easterner forced by circumstances to start his medical career in a remote town deep in the woodsy Alaska wilderness, is welcomed by the local chamber president:

“When I heard we got a crack at a Jew doctor from New York, well, I don’t have to tell you, I jumped. You boys do outstanding work.”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 14, 1990 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 14, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 13 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Name corrected--Due to information provided by CBS, the name of actor Frank Sotonoma Salsedo appeared incorrectly Thursday in a review of “Northern Exposure.”

So do Joshua Brand and John Falsey, creators and executive producers of a new CBS comedy/drama that has the goods to become one of television’s truly fine series.

“Northern Exposure” premieres at 10 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, its eight-episode presence during the traditional summer programming drought making it all the more special and thirst-quenching.

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The producers, who earlier initiated those superior NBC series “St. Elsewhere” and “A Year in the Life,” this time introduce a New Yorker miserably--and comically--trapped in a place he perceives as rural nightmare. When Fleischman (Rob Morrow) encounters Cicely, Alaska, it’s loathing at first sight. Contemplating an uncertain future without bagels or urban companionship, he immediately plots to get out of the contract binding him to this small-town practice.

Directed by Brand and written by Brand and Falsey, the premiere is a forest of charm and appealing characters, but even this endearing hour of humor and poignancy is exceeded by the second episode, which was written by Stuart Stevens. Although there are very funny moments in both shows, nothing is played broadly.

Morrow could not be better as Fleischman, a devotee of the great indoors now roughing it in the Great Northwest (the series is filmed in the gorgeous Bellevue, Wash., area), his eyes holding a hint of terror as he beds down in his cabin each night grasping a golf club to fight off rats.

Although Fleischman is patronizing and contemptuous of his new environment, the series isn’t. It celebrates the individuality of the supporting characters (some of them native Americans), even while having fun with them.

Fleischman is in perpetual conflict with local pilot Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner) and former astronaut and town big shot Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin). We also meet Fleischman’s spacey sidekick (Darren E. Burrows), a local naturalist (John Collum) and a Walt Whitman-quoting deejay (John Corbet).

Arguably the most interesting character of all, however--a very sage medicine man (Frank Sotonomo) who advises Fleischman “to dance if you want to heal people"--vanishes after being the irresistible focus of the second episode.

The only major kink in “Northern Exposure” is its tendency to have Fleischman and the others expose their flaws only to finish each episode by doing the good and right thing, as if guided by some invisible magic wand. Otherwise, this is magical stuff that deserves a permanent spot on the CBS schedule.


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