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Characters / Northern Exposure

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Joel Fleischman

Played by: Rob Morrow

I will under no condition, NO condition, spend the best years of my life in the worst place on Earth!

A New York doctor who has to serve in Cicely for four years as a condition of his student loans.

  • City Mouse/Fish out of Water: Very definitely a big city person and frequently grouses about having to live and work in what he sees as the middle of nowhere.
  • Character Development: Gradually learns to appreciate Cicely and the people around him over the course of the series, leading to:
    • Going Native: In his final episodes on the series he lives among the Tlingits, staying as close to nature as he can.
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  • Doctor Jerk: Less than great with bedside manner.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: For all his rudeness and short temper, he's a good friend and can be counted on for sound advice, medical and otherwise.
  • Jews Love to Argue: He's equally fond of getting into verbal fights and reminding people he's Jewish.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: His relationship with Maggie. They argue and insult each other the most, so getting together is pretty much inevitable.


Maggie O'Connell

Played by: Janine Turner

In your dreams, Fleischman!

A bush pilot who's the mail carrier for the town, and Fleischman's landlord.

  • Ace Pilot: Her aviation skills are a deserved point of pride.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Hair is short throughout the series
  • Cartwright Curse: her boyfriends tend to die in spectacular and unlikely ways: hit by a falling satellite, wandering onto a missile test range during a live fire exercise, consuming adulterated potato salad, etc.
    • Inverted with Mike, the bubble man; sex with Maggie actually cures him of his affliction. He promptly leaves to join Greenpeace.
  • Catchphrase: see quote above.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: She started as a roman a clef version of pilot/author Norah O'Neill
  • Rebellious Spirit: Has lived her life in opposition to her family's conventional middle class lifestyle, and is actually taken aback to find that her mother never cared for it either.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: With Joel.


Chris Stevens

Played by: John Corbett

Vani tass, vani tatum, et omni i vani tass, says the preacher. All is vanity. I think that's a pretty good epitaph for all of us. When we're stripped of all our worldly possessions and all our fame, family, friends, we all face death alone. But it's that solitude in death that's our common bond in life. I know it's ironic, but that's just the way things are. Vani tass, vani tatum, et omni i vani tass. Only when we understand all is vanity, only then, it isn't.

The erudite ex-con DJ at Cicely's radio station.

  • Badass Bookworm: You wouldn't really guess that this chatty bohemian was a rough and tumble former criminal.
  • Devil's Advocate: A benign example - Chris will readily take both sides in a debate, simply because he values the process of exchanging ideas so highly. He even applauds the prosecution at his own trial, and he's ecstatic when Cicely holds a mayoral election, even though (as a felon who hasn't completed his full term) he can't legally vote.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: His on-air spiels often function as this.
  • The Last DJ: A literal one. He works on the frontier for relative freedom, and even in Cicely he sometimes clashes with boss Maurice.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Like his actor he's from West Virginia, a Southern state carved out of Virginia during the Civil War for the Union. Very cultured.
  • We Are as Mayflies: He initially expects to die at about 40 because men in his family always have. It's actually an unpleasant surprise when he goes to the doctor and finds out that he can live a normal lifespan if he cuts down on sodium.

Maurice Minnifield

Played by: Barry Corbin

Now we've got an outstanding little town here Joel, ready to step up in the world. We've got, uh, natural resources, we've got land, we've got wildlife, just waiting to be fondled. And now Joel, now, we've got you. Come on son! let's do it.

The Korean War veteran, former astronaut and business mogul who owns the radio station and much of the town's property. He's also responsible for bringing Joel to town.

  • Benevolent Boss/Mean Boss: He can swing from one extreme to the other, especially with Ed.
  • Camp Straight: A subtle example. He sometimes pressures Chris to play more show tunes and his home would in the old days be considered a textbook example of Confirmed Bachelor good taste.
  • Famed In-Story: His fame from the space program helped him to get started in business and he still gets a good deal of publicity from it.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: He's intensely homophobic, and casually racist towards Joel, Bernard, and Ed, among others.
  • Remember the New Guy?: In universe. He was the second Marine (besides John Glenn) to be part of the Mercury 7 astronauts, presumably to replace Deke Slayton who was grounded due to medical reasons. He also "took his ride" in the program. IRL, the only Marine in the Mercury program was Glenn.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: More plain-spoken than Chris, but he's definitely a polymath.

Ed Chigliak

Played by: Darren E. Burrows

Indians don't knock. It's rude.

A half-Native American foundling who works in Ruth Anne's store and does odd jobs for Maurice.

  • Ambiguous Disorder: His odd bouts of tunnel vision and reluctance to make eye contact indicate he may be on the autism spectrum. He's shy on top of that too.
  • Drop-In Character
  • Doorstop Baby: He was left with the Tlingits as a baby, perhaps because of Half-Breed Discrimination.
  • Morality Pet: Joel is nicer to him than he is to most people.
  • The Movie Buff: He's an aspiring filmmaker himself. His movie mania can take the form of addressing real situations in arcane filmic terms or dropping random titles into conversation, depending on the level of the episode's writing.

Marilyn Whirlwind

Played by: Elaine Miles

I'm here for the job.

Serene Native American receptionist to Joel, later to his replacement Dr. Phil Capra.

  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Say it out loud. It's magic.
  • The Cast Showoff: Elaine Miles came to acting through tribal dancing, which Marilyn has been shown doing a few times.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: She runs Joel's office in a way he sometimes finds baffling, but works out for the best.
  • Magical Native American: Of the show's two regular NA characters she's the one more in touch with the traditions and sometimes clarifies the problems of other characters through myths and lore.
  • The Quiet One: Although she was the more talkative one in one of her relationships. Her entirely silent boyfriend was played by Bill Irwin back when he was better known as a mime/clown than an actor.
  • The Silent Bob: She speaks more through looks and gestures than words.

Holling Gustav Vincouer

Played by: John Cullum

Statehood. I voted against it.

The sexagenarian owner of The Brick, a popular local bar and restaurant.

  • Awesome Mc Coolname
  • Daddy Issues with his entire parental lineage, leading to anxiety about his ability to be a good parent to his and Shelly's child.
  • Genre Savvy: probably the most knowledgable character in the show when it comes to hunting, wilderness survival skills, and understanding the Alaska environment.
  • May–December Romance with Shelly.
  • The Rival: Jesse the Bear.

Shelly Marie Tambo Vincouer

Played by: Cynthia Geary

Take it from me, H. You, me and the rug rat - it's going to be better than Superbowl Sunday.

Holling's girlfriend, and eventually wife. At the beginning of the series, she is 18 years old and has just won the Miss Northwest Passage beauty pageant.

  • Dumb Blonde: At first glance, Shelly seems to exist at the three-way intersection between this trope, Valley Girl, and trailer trash. However, she has...
  • Hidden Depths: She can speak fluent Italian, among other talents.
  • Iconic Outfit: tight pants and an endless supply of goofy earrings.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: like most denizens of Cicely, she really cares about others.

Ruth-Anne Miller

Played by: Peg Phillips grave?! You bought me a grave for my birthday?

The elderly and level-headed proprieter of Cicely's general store.


Played by: Adam Arkin

I don't like people barging in on me. Okay? I don't like people. You are a person and I don't like people. Do you understand me?

An abrasive, pathologically lying hermit and local legend akin to Bigfoot.

  • Consummate Liar: Has shared countless unlikely and sometimes contradictory stories of his past, many of them likely false. However, his interactions with some characters suggest that there might be some truth to a few of them.
  • The Danza
  • Does Not Like Shoes: He always walks around barefoot, unable to even put them on. He tried to wear a pair on his wedding day, but it felt too unnatural.
  • Hidden Depths: Contrary to what his lack of personal hygiene and scraggy looks might give the impression of, he is an amazing chef.
  • Jerkass: Cranky, always angry and dislikes people so much that he prefers to live as far away from people as possible.
    Joel: Threats of imminent danger are just his way of saying 'good morning'.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: In his first appearance, he claims to have lived in the wilderness for 15 years since getting back from fighting in the Vietnam War. In the next few sentences, he claims to have studied at a culinary school in Buffalo. In later episodes, he hints at working for the CIA, being a karate black belt, etc.
  • Only One Name: His surname is never revealed.

Example of: