Screensavors: Double 'Exposure'

Anne Heche plays a big city author who finds a new life in Alaska among the 'Men in Trees.'

Dr. Fleischman, you've got company. During a just-completed trip to the States, we came across another CD of music from one of our all-time favorite shows Northern Exposure, which made us both smile and yearn for more reruns of the popular program that saw New York's Dr. Joel Fleischman transported to the wilds of Cicely, Alaska, where he eventually ended up becoming one with the natives. Well, we almost got our wish. It's obvious that former Sex in the City writer Jenny Binks watched more than a little of the Rob Morrow program because her Men in Trees (Xtra HOT, Tuesdays, 22:00), starring a delightful Anne Heche, shares much of its lovable quirkiness, its penchant for eclectic background music and its intelligent writing. Heche, who most people will remember from either her days as Ellen DeGeneres's main squeeze back when Heche was a lesbian - Heche is married to a guy now - from a period when she went a little loopy, or from her being stranded alongside Harrison Ford in Six Days Seven Nights, proves here she's got plenty of talent. Playing big city author and adviser to women Marin Frist, she's riding high, with her book I'm Dating and So Can You about to be followed by I'm Getting Married and So Can You. She's engaged to hunky Graham and at the top of her game, offering advice to groups of women about men, such as being sure to watch our for "the signs," including whether your man "watches gay porn just for variety." But her world turns upside down when, grabbing her fianc 's laptop instead of her own, Marin realizes en route to a lecture in Elmo, Alaska, that he's been cheating on her. Already jolted, she's further shocked to find herself trapped in the tiny, oil-rig-based town, populated almost exclusively by men. "They're all over, like a bad rash," explains one female resident. In fact, they're everywhere, even in the trees, from which one accidentally drops a branch on her - hence the title of the show. Like its Alaskan TV series predecessor, this town is also populated by some strange but fun types, starting with Patrick Bachelor (Derek Richardson), who works at the local hotel and just happens to run a... radio station. Move over, Chris in the Morning. After getting the final word from her beau that it's over, Marin tries to adjust, but it's not easy when your room's being ransacked by raccoons. Thank God the little critters also bring along that cute hunk Jack (James Tupper) she met in the local bar (the equivalent of The Brick, complete with a scruffy couple running it: Ben, played by the Jewish Abraham Benrubi, and Theresa, who are separated but thinking of getting back together). Soon Jack's giving the trying-to-not-be-impressed Marin a lesson on in-the-buff anti-hypothermia methods, and the city girl's attitude toward her new digs is beginning to thaw out. After all, it's hard not to smile when, right before launching her regular advice shpiel to a roomful of men, Patrick tells her to "break an antler." Of course, the men can't make heads or tails of her date-speak, since among other things, they've never heard of the soy lattes to which she refers. Heche also keeps us smiling when, deciding to go on a bike ride to try to find a way out of Elmo, Patrick hands her a can of bear spray. Spraying herself with it liberally, he tells her quietly: "Actually, you spray it on the bear, but that'll work." Slowly the magnificent countryside grows on her as do the peculiar folks who inhabit Elmo. Completing the parallels with Northern Exposure is the presence of a local pilot, Buzz (John Amos of Good Times), who's to Elmo what Maggie was to Cicely. There's also Sara, a whore with a heart of gold, and a scraggly old fellow who reminds us of Northern Exposure's Walt Kupfer. Soon Marin realizes from her break-up and her new surroundings that "I'm totally full of crap." Even when her agent turns up to try to redirect her back to her career and a spot on Oprah, Marin refuses. Instead, she begins redirecting her message - toward the town's men, via Patrick's radio station. After all, as one of the women tells her: "They're lonely, we're the prize - it's like shooting fish in a barrel." Or as another puts it: "The odds are good, but the goods are odd." While some might find the Northern Exposure rip-offs too much, there's still enough that's fresh here. We don't necessarily expect Northern Exposure's Adam and Eve to wander into Elmo any time soon, but those who've missed having a moose walk across their screen may yet find one in this winning Alaska-based arrival.