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Series: Northern Exposure

"It's like brother Nietzsche said: being human is a complicated gig, so give that dark knight of the soul a hug and howl the eternal yes."
Chris in the Morning

The exception to the "too good to last" rule. Every once in a great while, a show that seems to fit the profile actually makes it. Case in point: Northern Exposure. (Intelligent, well-written show, with a subtle blend of comedy and drama, beloved by a devoted fanbase and critics.) It came on in its first season as a Midseason Replacement, and had only a handful of episodes. It wasn't picked up for the fall, but was held back as a mid-season replacement again, so its second season also had just a handful of episodes. Which would seem just right for the chopping block — but it went on to have four full seasons after that.

The story:

Joel Fleischman is a young doctor from New York City, fresh from med school, who is contractually obliged to practice medicine in the small town of Cicely, Alaska as part of a financial aid package from the state. As Fleischman dreams of escaping Cicely, the locals all seem to be escaping from the rest of the world.

Quirky locals include:

  • Maurice Minnifield, a millionaire former astronaut who wants to turn his 15,000 acres of nearby land into an attractive vacation spot on the "new Alaskan Riviera."
  • Maggie O'Connell, a bush pilot from a rich family who has a love-hate relationship with Fleischman.
  • Holling Vincoeur, the town barkeep and one of its oldest residents.
  • Shelly Tambo, Holling's ditzy, barely-legal lover.
  • Marilyn Whirlwind, the utterly laconic, native Alaskan receptionist who is the perfect foil to all Fleischman's Woody Allenesque whining.
  • Chris "in the Morning" Stevens, the philosophic DJ (and former JD) at the local radio station.
  • Ed Chigliak, a native Alaskan with an affable lack of tact and an Encyclopaedic Knowledge of film.
  • Ruth-Anne Miller, a kindly older woman who runs the town's general store.

The show holds a similarity to Twin Peaks, with its use of extensive dream imagery, fantasy elements, and symbolism to explore its characters, and was one of the most successful "stealth fantasy" shows (in that most fans of the show would never admit that it was a fantasy show) in network television history. It lasted a single season after Rob Morrow left the show, and Fleischman was Suspiciously Similar Substituted by Paul Provenza's character Phil Capra.

This TV show provides examples of:

  • Ability over Appearance: Shelly was written to be Native-American but Caucasian Cynthia Geary ended up getting the part.
  • Absentee Actor: Starts to happen a lot more from the third season onward, especially when an episode breaks the usual Two Lines, No Waiting structure and focuses on a single story, perhaps even taking the action out of Cicely in the process.
    • Season 3's "Three Amigos" is the first episode in which neither Joel nor Maggie appear. The focus is entirely on Holling and Maurice's friendship, with some of the other main characters only appearing at the beginning and end of the episode.
    • On the flipside, Joel and Maggie are the only main characters to appear in Season 4's "Grosse Point, 48230".
    • This almost happened with Maggie in "Tranquility Base", which was not planned to be the finale when it was written. When the writers found out the series had been cancelled, she was hastily written into the end of the episode so that all the characters could be present in the final act.
  • Addictive Foreign Soap Opera: In the first episode of the second season, Shelly receives a satellite dish from her husband and becomes addicted to a telenovela, which is both Played for Laughs and used to help set up her realization that she has become disconnected from reality and the things she cares about.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: Played for Laughs. Ruth-Anne briefly takes up with some bikers who turn out to have normal, mundane lives.
  • All Just a Dream: Seems to happen at least Once per Episode. Sometimes it's the entire episode. Usually the audience can see it coming and know that it's being Played for Laughs, but there's still something interesting about the character(s) having the dream to be gleaned from it.
  • Amusing Injuries: In the episode "Old Tree", Joel seems to get spontaneously injured every time Maggie tries to do something nice for him.
  • And Show It to You: Adam threatens to rip Maurice's heart out and show it to him while the two are Volleying Insults over a disagreement regarding the town's newspaper.
  • Apocalypse How: Ed has a dream about the residents of the town suffering from horrible mutations because they weren't environmentally conscious enough to prevent the ozone layer from breaking down.
  • Asian Babymama: Maurice has one who pays him a visit in "Seoul Mates". Enough time has passed since the Korean War that she's now a baby grand-mama.
  • Author Avatar: In-universe, Ed is working on a screenplay called "The Shaman". It becomes pretty clear that the titular character is based on his own life in the episode "Balls", where Lester Haines agrees to finance the film but wants to change the ending, because he doesn't find it believable that the main character gets the girl in the end. This happens while Ed is dating Lester's daughter Heather, which Lester implies will never work out in real life.
  • Back to School: Holling in "Learning Curve".
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Joel and Maggie actually came to blows once.
  • Berserk Button: Never, ever insinuate that one of Maurice's heroes might have been a homosexual. Especially when you're broadcasting live on his radio station.
  • Book Ends: The final sequence in the series finale shows a moose wandering around town at night, in similar fashion to the show's opening credits.
  • Brainless Beauty: Shelly, but she's revealed to have Hidden Depths.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Fleischman obliterates the fourth wall in "War and Peace". When Maurice is involved in a duel with his rival, he stops them and says" Look, we play to a very sophisticated television audience. They know Maurice isn't going to kill Nikolai and they definitely know Nikolai isn't going to kill Maurice." Maggie then calls him out for stepping out of character and then everyone complains that it's too cold when Marilyn suggests they just move on to the next scene.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Joel. (He's technically from Queens, but close enough.) This comes out whenever anyone, knowingly or inadvertently, makes his life difficult. In an episode where he starts to worry that he's losing his "New York edge", what ends up curing his homesickness is a heated argument with a repairman who Joel thinks is ripping him off.
  • But You Were There, and You, and You: One of this show's many All Just a Dream episodes ends with this. It's a pretty obvious spoof of the trope namer, right down to the placement of the characters at the dreamer's bedside and window.
  • California Doubling: Alaska, I mean um, Washington state, sure is beautiful.
  • Call Back: These start to pile up as the seasons go by, but the episode "Crime and Punishment" has so many that it's practically a clip show with no clips, as pretty much every major character takes the stand to briefly recap the events of an episode where Chris helped them work their some of their personal issues.
  • Canada, Eh?: "Northern Hospitality."
  • Cannot Live With Them Cannot Live Without Them: Adam and Eve.
  • Cartwright Curse: "The O'Connell Curse."
  • Catapult Nightmare: In "All Is Vanity," Holling becomes convinced fiancée Shelly prefers, ahem, cleaner-looking men and schedules an appointment with Dr Fleischman. He soon has second thoughts.
  • Church of Saint Genericus: The only church depicted, which seems to be attended by just about everyone in Cicely, is some sort of community church presided over by Chris, after a mail-order ordination by "The First Church of Truth and Beauty". It is doubtful whether he even has a coherent theology.
  • Circumcision Angst: Holling in the Very Special Episode above.
  • The City vs. the Country: The basic premise.
  • Commedia dell'Arte Troupe: Seen in two episodes where Cicely's history is explored, as well as the premiere of Season 6, where Joel experiences a vision of how his life might have turned out had he stayed in New York City.
  • Commuting on a Bus: Joel commutes on a boat for about a third of Season 6.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Chris reacts this way when Joel gives him some blood pressure medication intended to help stave off heart disease. Suddenly he's extremely depressed about not knowing what to do with the rest of his life, because he was planning on checking out at 40.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: The Eskimo Indians celebrating Thanksgiving as "The Day of the Dead," where they throw tomatoes at white people.
    • Inverted in "Rosebud." Leonard looks for white folktales for his work as a healer. The results are... disappointing.
  • Daddy Issues: Holling has these with his entire paternal lineage.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Ed falls victim to this in a Season 6 episode.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joel and Maggie do this with each other all the time, but whenever Adam's around, he's skilled enough at it to make anyone else's attempts at snark look like child's play.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Joel gets one of these in season 2's premiere "Goodbye to All That".
  • December-December Romance: Ruth-Anne and Walt.
  • Destination Defenestration: Maurice does this to Chris within mere minutes of the audience being introduced to the latter.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: The blind repairman who fixes Holling's piano in "Duets".
  • Discussed Trope: Ed's collection of films about Germans are always about Those Wacky Nazis, specifically Josef Mengele, and he even asks what it's like to always be the bad guys.
  • Dream Sequence: the entire show was made of these.
    • In "What I Did for Love" Maggie repeatedly dreams she's playing Clue with Joel, who, in the dream, will die in a plane crash on his way back to New York.
    • And Vision Quest for (naturally) Ed.
  • Drop-In Character: Ed. He doesn't seem to believe in knocking, and will already be in the room before the person he came to visit (frequently Joel) will even notice him.
    • Joel's house seems to be a magnet for these kinds of characters. Particularly in the middle of the night.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Rick became a victim of "The O'Connell Curse" when he got a satellite dropped on him.
  • Due to the Dead: The reason for Maurice and Holling's wilderness excursion in "Three Amigos". It doesn't quite go as planned.
    • Chris also struggles with this when a friend's remains are mailed to him in "Heroes".
  • Dumb Blonde: Shelly seems to exist at the three-way intersection between this trope, Valley Girl, and Trailer Trash. At other times she demonstrates Hidden Depths.
  • Easy Amnesia: In the episode after Joel and Maggie have sex, Maggie seems to genuinely not remember what happened.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: yes, Mayberry had these, but this show and Local Hero recreated this trope on television.
  • Endless Daytime: One episode takes place during the Midnight Sun. People go a little crazy. Er.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Some engine problems cause Joel's car to erupt into flames while he's driving it down Main Street. While waiting for the town's fire department to show up, the truck explodes.
  • Fake Guest Star: Moultrie Patten as Walt Kupfer. He appeared in nearly every episode in the last couple seasons.
  • Fish out of Water: Rob Morrow played this to the hilt.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: A French chef working for Maurice gets away with "Merde!" when the English equivalent clearly wouldn't have been allowed in an American primetime network show.
  • Friday Night Death Slot: The "burn off episodes in the summer" variety. The show both started and ended this way, with its first season airing entirely in the summer, and the last few episodes of its final season being held back from May sweeps and aired in June and July, presumably because the ratings dropped precipitously after Rob Morrow's departure.
  • Genius Ditz: Ed. He appears to catch on a bit slow, especially in social situations, but the man knows his movies, and can easily relate anything he or another character is going through to a plot element from a favorite vintage film.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: For an episode that's surprisingly frank regarding the details of the human reproductive system, "The Bad Seed" still manages to slip one in there when Joel finds some unexpected results in Holling's, um, sample. Holling, taken aback, says "Come again?", to which Joel responds that one sample is enough.
    • And then there's the episode where Holling and Ruth-Anne go bird-hunting. "Let's go nail some tit!"
  • Going Native: Joel in season 6.
    • An episode in season three where Joel is (much to his own chagrin) adopted by a local tribe foreshadows this.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Happened in real life when Justin Vernon was home sick with mono, and watching the series on DVD. The scene at the end of "First Snow" where everyone wishes each other "Bon hiver!" inspired his stage name, Bon Iver.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Adam, up to and including his own wife.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Maurice hits this one pretty hard after selling a home to a pair of men he later realized was a gay couple. He doesn't take kindly to them pointing out that he appreciates several of the same activities as they do (cooking, interior decorating, etc.) When he starts ranting about their "unnatural lifestyle", they think he is just trying to jack the price up.
    • Chris deals with this in his usual open-minded manner when he finds himself inexplicably sexually attracted to a man who never speaks. The worst part? It happens in the middle of a spiritual retreat at a monastery, and the man in question is one of the monks. Subverted when the monk's hood finally comes off and the character is revealed to be a woman.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Chris is also a vegetarian English professor and dating Carrie until she leaves him for Mr. Big.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: In-universe example - Maurice tells Joel that, whatever he may have heard, the two women who founded the town were just good friends.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted with General Store owner Ruth-Anne Miller, one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth residents of Cicely, who just happens to be an atheist.
  • Hollywood Law: An episode where Chris is on trial for skipping parole and his lawyer, Mike Monroe, knows he has no real case, seems to head straight into this when they try to make the metaphysical argument that Chris is a different person now. It's subverted when the judge, who has humored their ridiculous argument for several days, still sentences Chris to finishing his prison term, but is lenient enough to stay the sentence for three years, having become someone sympathetic to Chris during her time in Cicely.
    • This trope is how this series starts, with an utterly ludicrous contract that is fully explored on the trope page.
  • Hot Librarian: Maggie becoming mayor of Cicely has this effect on Chris, who is attracted to her authority.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Ed, as part of his total Pretty Boy status.
  • Inspector Javert: Officer Barbara Semanski. Chris name-checks this trope in reference to her at one point. In that very same episode, she arrests Joel for gambling. While off duty. In the middle of a date.
    • The young, eager health inspector who threatens to shut down Holling's Bar is also a good example.
  • Insult to Rocks: At one point, Maggie decides that calling Joel a moron would be "an insult to morons".
  • It's Always Spring: The show does try to demonstrate that it's Alaska and there are true seasons... but filming in Washington a few months ahead of the intended airdate means that it's going to be sunnier and more colorful on Thanksgiving day that any real Alaskan town would probably be. (Autumn in Alaska typically ends in October.)
  • Last Name Basis: Maggie and Joel pretty much always refer to each other as "Fleischman" and "O'Connell". Even after they've slept together.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: Chris experiences this in a dream sequence.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Pretty much everyone in Cicely has a few of these:
    • Chris's half-brother Bernard is one of the series' most notable recurring characters.
    • Maurice has a half-Korean son.
    • Holling has a daughter who was conceived after he was told he was sterile.
    • Ed spends a few episodes looking for his biological father.
    • Joel has a twin brother. No, he doesn't.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: In one episode, Joel is back in New York, and everyone from Cicely is there. Ed's a hedge fund Wunderkind, and Maurice is just a bellhop.
  • Magic Realism (and the Scifi Ghetto): Dream sequences, the flying man, the ghosts and indian spirits, the pheremones, the entire serendipity of the town.
  • Magical Native American: Ed in later seasons
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Ed plays this out and lampshades it later.
  • May-December Romance: Holling and Shelly. Funnily enough, he worries in one episode that he might outlive her.
    • The in-universe justification is that the men in Holling's family have, without exception, lived to get extremely old. It's implied Holling thinks of their relationship as a Mayfly-December Romance.
    • Chris mentions this trope by name in one episode, citing examples of this type of relationship in Hollywood.
    • Shelly's own mother inverts this when she shows up in Cicely with a boyfriend who is barely older than Shelly.
  • Meaningful Name: Holling Vincoeur runs the local bar; his surname is French for wine-heart, although nobody pronounces it very Frenchly.
  • Mis-blamed: In-universe example: Joel takes offense to being called "white" in the Thanksgiving episode.
  • Mistaken for Gay: This happens to Maurice when he sells a home to a gay couple, due to his of love cooking and showtunes. Leads to the Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today? scene described above.
  • Moral Guardians: Sort of inverted in the episode "Northern Hospitality". A resident is Driven to Suicide and leaves a note saying that the song "Pencil-Necked Geek" that Chris broadcast on the radio was what convinced him to do it. Chris immediately takes it upon himself to remove anything that could be remotely construed as angry or depressing from his playlist, which leads many of the townspeople to complain that the station is now quite boring, and that the music shouldn't be blamed for the suicide.
  • Musical Episode: "Old Tree" is like this, but only for "Shelly". It's apparently a side effect of her pregnancy. Holling joins her for a duet near the end of the episode.
  • The Night That Never Ends: Happens in "Northern Lights", which is sort of the inverse of the Endless Daytime episode mentioned above. Though the sun is still up for about an hour each day, which is true in many locations just north of the Arctic Circle.
  • Noodle Incident: Maggie's first boyfriend was apparently killed by potato salad.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: In "A Cup of Joe", Holling and Ruth-Anne discover that their grandfathers were both prospectors back in the gold rush days, and that one had to resort to eating the other's body when they got snowed in one winter.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Adam, originally.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The health inspector who threatens to shut down Holling's bar. At least he's polite about it.
  • Olive Garden: The show attempts to explore Dr. Capra's Italian heritage when he discovers that Cicely has a "Little Italy". He quickly gets swept into a family feud based on a rather trivial offense from years past.
  • Otaku: Ed. More attractive than most, and less socially awkward, but he still gets into film themes.
  • Parental Substitute: Maurice is a bit of a domineering father figure in Ed's life, while Ruth-Anne is the gentler mother figure. This leads to Ed being caught in the middle in Season 4 when Ruth-Anne buys her store from Maurice and the two get into a terrible argument about it, both of them trying to manipulate Ed into quitting working for the other.
  • The Philosopher: Chris frequently waxes philosophic over the airwaves, often name-checking various tropes in the process.
  • Plot Parallel: Most episodes.
  • Pretty Boy: Ed, just... Ed. And Chris in the Morning, a rare scruffy version of this type.
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: Elaine Miles (Marilyn) and Peg Phillips (Ruth-Anne) in Season 4. They were mostly satellite characters in the earlier seasons, but somewhere around Season 3 more of the storylines began to center on them.
    • Teri Polo and Paul Provenza get this treatment later in Season 6, after being credited as guests for several episodes.
  • Put on a Bus: Mike Monroe, literally.
  • The Quiet One: Marilyn. Especially in situations where Joel would find it helpful for her to be more verbose.
    • Of special note is her testimony at Chris's trial:
    Marilyn: I like him.
    Mike Monroe: Do you have anything to add?
    Marilyn: (thinks for a bit) No.
    • Also of note is her reaction to finding Joel in his office, after he's been missing for several days and has his wrists shackled:
    Marilyn: Your sterile sponges arrived.
  • Quirky Town
  • Racist Grandpa: Maurice, though he isn't as crotchety about this as many characters who fit the trope. He's reasonably tolerant of minorities, but his speech often reflects a belief that whites are still superior. This is especially troublesome for him when he learns that he has a half-Korean son.
  • Real-Life Relative: Marilyn's mother is played by Armenia Miles, the real-life mother of Elaine Miles. Interestingly, Elaine never auditioned for the show, but was offered the part when she accompanied her mother to her audition.
  • Really Gets Around: Rick. After he dies, he tells Maggie in a dream sequence that he's slept with 2,500 women.
    • Chris gets his fair share as well. Pheremones might have something to do with it.
  • The Remnant: One of these guys featured in one episode, from when Japan controlled the Aleutian Islands
  • Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: Often averted when characters are speaking in foreign languages, and characters unfamiliar with the language have to stumble through as best they can, just like the audience does. But played somewhat straight when Marilyn dates a man who only communicates via sign language. It's probably the most dialogue Marilyn has had in any episode up until that point.
  • Raised by Natives: Ed.
  • Robinsonade: Joel and Maggie get to do this for an episode after Maggie's plane goes down in the vast Alaskan wilderness.
  • Salt and Pepper: Chris and Bernard, a white guy/black guy pair of half-brothers who are more or less exactly the same person.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Ed.
    Joel: Just come on in, Ed. Don't bother knocking.
    Ed: Okay.
  • Severely Specialized Store: In one episode, Shelly is interested in going to the Mall of America; she mentions that they have a whole store that's just socks.
  • Share the Male Pain: Chris in the Morning announces over the radio that Holling is considering circumcision. Ed says only, "Ow."
  • Shout-Out: A number of them,such as an episode where Ed finds a ring from Federico Fellini and starts seeing the world in Fellini imagery, and an episode that ends with Holling, Joel and Elaine doing an extended Twin Peaks riff.
    • In "Kaddish For Uncle Manny", the townsfolk are trying to find other Jews in Alaska. Joel has a dream that these Jews approach him on horseback, like in an old Western. Two of them are named Joel and Ethan Coen.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the few shows to put consistent effort into a realistic portrayal of Native Americans, specifically Tlingits.
  • The Silent Bob: Enrico Bellati, the "flying man" who arrives in Cicely with the circus. Communicating only in sign language, he makes Marilyn (who happens to be the object of his affection) seem rather talkative in comparison. He does actually speak to Marilyn in his second appearance, though he still prefers not to do it unless he has something extremely important to say. Oh, and yes, he really can fly.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: You can probably see this coming from a mile away in the episode that begins with Maggie punching Joel in the nose. Despite being dared to hit her back, Joel retaliates in the form of legal action... and it just gets worse from there until a fight at the climax of the episode turns into a literal roll in the hay.
  • Slice of Life: A defining trait of the series. Most plots arise from the mundane minutiae of life in Cicely than those that are based on obviously massive, life-changing events.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Maurice. The man went into space once and now he believes himself to be an American institution. It doesn't help that he seems to own most of the town.
  • Some of My Best Friends Are X: Maurice tries to pull this on Bernard when he takes offense at being told, "You don't sound black." Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work too well.
  • Spirit Advisor: One Who Waits
  • Straw Feminist: Maggie started out as a strong, independent woman, but she degenerated in later seasons into a caricature.
    • All of the women in the town become this for a day when Maggie decides to defiantly give the boot to Maurice and the men he's hired to dig up some Indian artifacts that were discovered in her front yard.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: To be fair, Dr. Capra was a very different character and the focus of the show had already widened to the point that no one character was integral to the series.
    • Interestingly, in Phil's second episode, he and Joel play a round of golf together, which serves to illustrate how much Joel has changed since the beginning of the series while Phil now takes on the Fish out of Water role occupied by Joel earlier in the series.
    • Later in Season 6, Chris seems to get set up as one of these in the shipping department, since Joel's depature has left Maggie without a love interest and Dr. Capra is, well, married.
    • A minor example happens in Season 5, when Dave, a recurring character who works at Holling's bar, gets replaced by Eugene without explanation.
  • Television Geography: Cicely is a little like many places in Alaska, but nowhere in Alaska is like Cicely. Judging by the clues, the town seems to be located just up the Alcan Highway from Springfield.
    • It was inspired by the real town of Talkeetna, Alaska though, about two hours north of Anchorage. Sadly, the town is now a tourist trap.
    • A pretty big clue that they were being intentionally cagey with the geography is the repeated references to the nearest town being Sleetmute, which is apparently over 200 miles away by road. In real life, Sleetmute is completely off the road system.
  • Terra Deforming: Maurice Minnifield sees Alaska as just a huge opportunity for business.
  • Terrified of Germs: Mike Monroe, introduced in season 4, is so hyper-sensitive to compound chemicals that he can sense them in the atmosphere from hundreds of miles away. When we first meet the character, he lives in a hermetically sealed geodesic dome and never ventures outside. Maggie gradually coaxes him into venturing out a bit more.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Since you can see Russia from their houses, yes, this is mentioned occasionally.
  • Troll Bridge: in the magical realist sequence in "The Quest," when Fleischman leaves the show.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-universe, folks often react this way to Chris's various art exhibits. Often Chris himself doesn't even understand what he's building.
  • Tsundere: Maggie is definitely Type 1.
  • Twin Switch: In one episode, Joel Fleischman's twin brother Jules shows up in Cicely. Let's just say he's a bit more laid back than his brother. He gradually persuades his brother to switch places with him for a day, during which Hilarity Ensues on both ends. We've conveniently never heard of him before ( and as it turns out, neither has Joel, because it was All Just a Dream).
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Aside from the pilot, all episodes had two, three or four plots.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-universe. A wax replica of Maurice has this effect on people, and it starts to become the butt of their jokes until Maurice decides he can't stand it any more.
  • Unfortunate Implications: In-universe example: In one episode, Joel is listing strains of flu, and when he says "Russian flu", everyone immediately thinks the Soviets sent the flu across the Bering Strait to them and The Great Politics Mess-Up was a hoax.
  • Visions of Another Self: The residents of 1909 Cicely in the Flash Back to the town's founding: Maurice becomes the ruthless crime-boss Mace Mobrey; Maggie is the stong-willed missionary Mary O'Keefe; Chris's counterpart is the philisophical gunfighter Kit; and Ed is Ned, the old man telling Joel the story. Joel himself? His counterpart is Franz Kafka!
    • They revisited this past period in a later episode, only recasting Joel as a personal physician to Lenin and Maggie as a handmaiden to Anastasia. According to the story, Anastasia had agreed to emerge from hiding to meet with Lenin about possibly returning to the Soviet Union.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Maurice and Holling, frequently over Shelly.
  • Water Source Tampering: Maurice taps into an underground water source and starts bottling and selling the water. Everyone who drinks it begins displaying a number of Gender Inverted Tropes.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: Joel begs Maggie to go back to being mean to him in an episode where her attempts to be kind inadvertently end up injuring him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Episodes often end this way - a character will get into some sort of situation which won't really resolve itself, with the narrative resolution coming instead from the character learning something about him/herself or others.
    • A good example is Maggie playing Nancy Drew in "The Mystery of the Old Curio Shop". The episode never actually tells us what the deal was with the couple running that curio shop.
  • Where The Hell Is Springfield?: All right, it's in Alaska. But fan discussions pointed out that there can not possibly be anywhere in the state with ALL the characteristics which have been indicated in-episode.
  • Wild Wilderness: Alaska!
  • Welcome Episode: Joel gets an unexpected and confusing welcome to Alaska in the pilot.
  • Wretched Hive: Sleetmute, judging from the way characters occasionally describe it in comparison to Cicely.
  • You Didn't Ask: Marilyn has a habit of being as vague as possible when others need information from her. Ask her if she knows why the Wacky Hijinks of the week are taking place in Joel's waiting room, the town, or just in Alaska in general, and she'll probably just respond "Yes".

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alternative title(s): Northern Exposure
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