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January 18, 2014

Weekend Reviews: I often find warmth in 'Northern Exposure'

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The Daily Star

---- — As many of you can probably empathize with, I had a lot of mixed emotions toward the rather large snowfall and, more generally, the wintry weather that settled upon Oneonta recently.

On one hand, when I was growing up, I always liked winter. Like most kids, I loved sledding and snow angels and snowball fights (and consequently tolerated the chapped lips and numb fingers that often accompanied them). Even though it’s extremely cliché, I’ll admit that there are few things I love more than cozying up next to a warm fireplace, reading a good book, and drinking a mug of tea as the snow accumulates outside. Winter seems to bring with it a sort of sentimental, homey feeling that warms you up from the inside out and makes you want to hug everyone you see. Either that or seasonal depression.

Every year, after a month or so of snowy wonderfulness, I’m ready for spring.

Like, fully ready. Winter seems less picturesque and more dismal and slushy. Getting my feet wet when walking from the house to the unreasonably freezing car aggravates me way more than it should; and staying locked up inside because the streets are slick with fresh snow and ice is no longer exciting, it’s just irritating. It’s times like these when I think of Cicely, Alaska: the fictional frozen wasteland of the television series “Northern Exposure.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, “Northern Exposure” aired from 1990 to 1995 on CBS. It follows the story of Dr. Joel Fleischman, an asinine (but nevertheless loveable) Jewish doctor from New York City who, after neglecting to read the fine print on the contractual obligations of his medical school scholarship, finds himself stuck in a quirky little town on the Alaskan frontier. The earlier episodes of the show seem to focus more on the culture shock Dr. Fleischman experiences and his adaptation to his newfound (and rather unorthodox) surroundings. 

However, as the series progresses, it begins to incorporate and reflect on the lives of the supporting characters. That’s one of the best parts of this show, actually. All of the characters have such elaborate and compelling backstories that it never gets boring. You’re constantly learning more about the Alaskan locals and the history of the town, so much so that it begins to feel like Cicely, Alaska, and all the people who inhabit it, could be completely real.

Characters such as Maggie O’Connell, a spirited and sarcastic bush pilot and Fleischman’s landlord and on-and-off love interest; Chris Stevens, a handsome ex-convict and disc jockey at KBHR radio who, on his program “Chris in the Morning,” reflects philosophically on various events occurring throughout the town; Maurice Minnifield, a narcissistic retired astronaut and aspiring businessman who owns Cicely’s local paper, radio station, and most of the town’s property; Ed Chigliak, a film buff and Alaskan native with a big heart and a poor sense of personal space; and many others help the town of Cicely, Alaska, to come to life.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a television program or movie that creates an atmospheric feeling of community and warmth as well as “Northern Exposure” does. I remember watching the series for the first time when I was 8 or 9 and being totally and completely immersed. My parents had Netflixed it to re-watch, having seen it for the first time when they were experiencing their own sort of wilderness adventure — living out of a trailer in the backcountry of Eugene, Ore.

Watching the show, I fell in love with the rural, simplistic lifestyle and dreamed of living alone (spare a couple of dogs of course) in a log cabin in the woods. This dream lasted for years after I finished the series. I guess it was the way everyone in Cicely was always looking out for one another. They were all unique, vastly interesting and complex people who cared for each other like family. The snowy surroundings and the quaint, scenic atmosphere of the area only made it seem cozier. I could never understand why Joel Fleischman was so distraught about having to move to Cicely.

But, it seems like the older I get the less I like the snow, and the more I sympathize with Joel’s reluctance. I mean, he was forced to live somewhere that didn’t have BAGELS; I know I would be reluctant to move somewhere that couldn’t provide me with a consistent supply of delicious bagels.

Bagel-less or not, each year when I begin to resent the snow outside, I love to think about the familiar little town of Cicely. It helps the long, tedious months of slush and sleet and black ice seem a little less treacherous, and a little more like home. 

Katie Huntington is a junior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk.