To me the most important aspect of a story, by far, are the characters.
That being said, Northern Exposure is very character driven. Plotlines, while well written, rarely go beyond soap opera level scope and complexity, as their primary purpose is to reflect on the characters, their personalities, and their interactions. And it is the characters who really make NE shine.
Many shows have that one really quirky character. Some have two or three. In Northern Exposure, the entire cast is eccentric and offbeat. From the pugnacious, verbose Jewish doctor to the hapless young native Alaskan shaman-in-training to the ex-con ramblingly philosophical radio announcer, every single main character—and even most of the recurring minor characters—is both delightfully weird and superbly well acted. Even the characters who you might not particularly like as people are still believable as human beings. Some of the characters don't quite seem as if they could exist in this world, but in the vaguely magical
town of Cicely, Alaska, they fit perfectly.
I have only briefly mentioned the plots in Northern Exposure. In fact, they are frequently just as quirky as the characters themselves. Most of the plots are little more than slice-of-life mundane, but it is the way they are written and executed that makes them so fun to watch.
Now, a word of warning. In the later episodes, a certain major character gradually fades out and gets replaced
by a newcomer. This is commonly considered to be where the series starts to go downhill
. However, should you choose not to watch the later episodes due to quality, I VERY highly recommend at least watching the sixth season episode The Quest. This is one of the best episodes—the ending truly must be seen to be believed
—and is a perfect ending for the series as a whole plotwise, character-wise, and stylistically
In my opinion, Northern Exposure was one of the best shows of The Nineties
. It is a wonderful blend of humor, drama, and some of the best characters I have ever seen in any medium. While it might not appeal to those looking for more action- or plot-intensive shows, it is a must for anyone looking for something offbeat and wonderfully—just in case you didn't see it the first dozen times—quirky.