Rediscovering a Non-Place

December 8, 2005

We sought something off-Tivo while eating dinner this evening, primarily because Katie’s illness has resulted in a lot of time with the TV on this week. I threw it up for Katie to pick, and she tapped my DVD copy of Northern Exposure (Season 1) for our evening’s entertainment.

Through the assistance of the shiny media discs, I was able to reconnect with a place I’ve inhabited on and off for over a decade. This year is the ten-year anniversary of the show’s finale, and as Joel met characters like Maurice and Holling for the first time it put me in a thoughtful state of mind.

The first time I watched the show I definately didn’t understand all levels of the experience. I was about 10 at the time, and watched it along with my parents, who obviously had better taste in entertainment than I did at the time. I recall, dimly, that the show was a great conversation starter. NoEx was a show that talked in an intelligent way about adult issues, but was not so high-handed that a youngin’ couldn’t get the jist of what they were talking about. I know for a fact that my first conversation about the problems facing a communist Russia was held as a result of that show.

At the end of that decade, Northern Exposure was in respectful reruns on A&E. My freshman year of college, while not as trying as many young people’s, had its share of stressful and confusing moments. Thanks to my trusty VCR (ah, the 90s) and VHS tapes, I came home every night to an episode detailing the eventful lives of the inhabitants of Cicely, AK. I’d settle in with my sandwich from the school deli and learn a little bit more about what it was like to be an educated adult. Or, at least, a form of educated adult. Those tapes came in mighty handy the following year, too, allowing me to keep my sanity during an incredibly frustrating sophmore slump.

I actually got to stand on main street Cicely, twice, in 2002 thanks to the kindness of my friends and brother. A day-long trip out to Roslyn was a good excuse to get out of the Oly area during the last days of my Senior year. We didn’t do a whole hell of a lot that day, other than drive and yammer, but it was a fun experience nontheless. On my final trip out of Oly, later that year, we stopped in Rosyln for some gas to fill the U-Haul on the way to Spokane. It must have been a great place to shoot, working on that show. The imagery really doesn’t do the actual experience justice … soaring peaks and towering trees are just words on a screen, but in person they’re incredible reminders of our smallness. The Rosyln cemetary, by the by, is singularly one of the most interesting places to rest the dead I have ever had the fortune to visit. If you’re in the area I highly recommend it.

The first season is short, only about 8 episodes, and as a result we reached the season finale relatively quickly. Leaving the hallowed halls of the Brick contained a note of frustration for me, because I doubt I’ll return in DVD format for the following seasons.

Yes, despite my love of the show and the quality of DVD imprints, I probably won’t pick up the subsequent seasons. The reason? Music. NoEx was a show built on many elements, and one of the most important (IMHO) was the audio background that the shows were built on. With Chris in the Morning an ever-present feature of the show, music played an important role in telling the tale in an episode. Despite this, the musical soul of post-season-one episodes has been surgically removed, with cheap public domain crap substituted for carefully chosen soundtrack selections. Music rights aren’t cheap. Thanks to the sheer amount of music used in an average NoEx episode, the thoughtful producers decided it would be most cost effective to simply cull the backbone from the series. After all, the show is still the show without the music, right?

Eh. No thanks. I, for one, still have a crate full of VHS tapes to keep me company whenever I want a chance to check out Ruth Anne’s store or Holling’s bar. And in that Cicely, the music is still worth listening to.

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