Northern Exposure

Common Sense Media says

Quirky '90s comedy captures diversity of small-town life.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Through its characters, the show stresses diversity and individuality within the context of a quirky small-town community. There's also a palpable sense of connection among the characters, in spite of their cultural and physical differences.

Positive role models

The supporting cast is remarkably diverse, including Native Americans as well as actors of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Characters mostly get along in spite of their differences. Female characters are particularly strong in the series -- Maggie is an independent aircraft operator who speaks her mind easily.


Actual violence is rare but guns are present, mostly used for hunting. There are also some injuries with small amounts of blood.


Light sexual tension/banter between male and female characters. A married couple consists of an older man with a much younger wife and there are ongoing storylines relating to the appropriateness of the match.


Audible words include "crap," "hooker," "damn," etc.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking, with occasional drunkenness played for humor. Many scenes occur in a bar/restaurant.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this quirky series offers some good but subtle lessons about the benefits of diversity and the ability of people from different backgrounds to get along within the confines of a small community. It's not a comedy in the traditional sense either, but the overall tone is light rather than dramatic. Expect to hear some low-level swearing (including "crap," "damn," etc.) and see a little social drinking that sometimes leads to drunkenness. There's also some light sexual tension between male and female characters, along with a bit of violence (and occasional blood) related to hunting or some type of minor injury.

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What's the story?

It's a case of NORTHERN EXPOSURE for young New York City doctor Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) when he learns he's been assigned to the small town of Cicely, Alaska -- and that he's contracted to stay there for at least four years. Now, he must live and work among the locals, who include gutsy pilot Maggie (Janine Turner), widowed store owner Ruth-Anne (Peg Phillips), philosophizing disc jockey Chris (John Corbett), and aspiring filmmaker Ed (Darren E. Burrows).

Is it any good?


Airing for six seasons on CBS from 1990-1995, this Emmy-nominated series also picked up a pair of Peabody Awards for television excellence in its portrayal of small-town diversity -- and it did so in such a way that its quietly quirky tone remains unique to this day. As the town's resident radio philosopher, Corbett's character in particular provides a calming and poetic narrative that ties all the elements together and usually gives the viewer something to think about.

Although much of Northern Exposure's appeal lies in its varied cast of supporting characters, Morrow and Turner have a magic of their own, putting a fresh twist on the classic Sam-and-Diane tension that worked so well on Cheers. Turner also offers a refreshing take on the concept of a female protagonist, redefining in her own way what it means to be a woman on TV.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the diversity of characters seen on this show and compare it to other series currently on television. How common is it to see Native American characters on TV, for example, and how are they usually portrayed? Does this series reinforce or refute negative stereotypes?

  • How can you tell this series is supposed to be a comedy? In terms of style and tone, how does it differ from other TV comedies on the air?

  • What are the benefits of small-town life? Are there any drawbacks? What size town would you rather live in?

TV details

Cast:Janine Turner, John Corbett, Rob Morrow
Topics:Science and nature
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD

This review of Northern Exposure was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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