Northern Exposure Wiki
Northern Exposure Wiki
Joel Fleischman
Played by Rob Morrow
Gender Male
Occupation Medical doctor
Title Doctor
Family Herb Fleischman (father)
Nadine Fleischman (mother)
Naomi Fleischman (grandmother)[1][2]
Partner Elaine (former fiancée)
Religion Jewish
Nationality American
First appearance "Pilot"
Last appearance "The Quest"

Joel Haim Fleischman, M.D. is the central character of Northern Exposure, played by Rob Morrow.

Joel is a Jewish Russian from Flushing, Queens, New York City and son to Herb and Nadine Fleischman.[3]

The clash of Joel's big-city background with Cicely's frontier culture, and his relations with its colorful people, are key elements of the show. Joel's rationalism is also a contrast to the various magical realism happenings around the town.


He agreed to practice medicine in Alaska for four years as a condition of his scholarship at Columbia University Medical School, as he claims he went through 75 scholarship applications with Alaska being the only one to say yes. Initially assigned to Anchorage, Alaska, he finds himself tied against his will to Cicely, Alaska, where moose wander on the main street, bagels are unknown,[4] and golfing (Joel's an avid fan) isn't very practical.[5][6] He will be paid $465 per month and the alternative is a $10,000 fine and 18 years in jail.


Maggie really can not stand Joel's personality. Joel thinks that Maggie is the one who is worse. In Season 4, Episode 25, Maggie tricked him into agreeing to stop acting like himself. Joel faced his fears of working with a crowd of people when he joined Cicely's fire department. Ruth Anne nominated him to be her successor, which resulted in two more years of Joel being stuck in Cicely.


Joel can not stand his father. They try to reconcile after their visit. Nadine was taken in by Marilyn. She tells the story of an endless babbling character, who learned how to keep quiet to stay alive. When Nadine finally did this, she was able to save her self after falling off the cliff. Nadine's connection to Native American Spirituality put tension between her and Joel.

Maggie introduced Joel to numerous of her family members.

When staying in Cicely, The Native Americans have extended their welcome at least three times. Ed, who has a communal mind, lets himself into Joel's house frequently. Joel "saved the life" of a Native American woman by simply providing a temporary treatment for the symptoms of a mild ailment. She thanked him by adopting him as grandson and welcomed him as an honorary Tinglet. [7] The Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by throwing tomatoes at Caucasians. They left Joel alone after hearing about his ongoing involuntary assignment to Cicely and let him march in their parade. [8]


Joel is annoyed that his services in Cicely do not seem to be required, yet needs to be there to pay off his debt. A running gag is when he clashes with other people. Other people with medical expertise that he clashed with include: Anku, Maggie, Leonard, Marilyn, Ed, Eve, and Angelo. Anku is a popular Medicine Man for decades. Maggie took over Joel's pregnancy class. Leonard successfully cured Shelly's rash. Ed helped Marilyn take over the office, as did Eve. It turns out that all of their diagnostics are correct. Angelo also picked up medical expertise as a classic barber who closely examines people's heads. He correctly diagnosed Joel's tumor, with Marilyn concurring. When he goes to Anchorage to get the tumor extracted, it turns out that the doctor in Anchorage agrees with them. For a while, Joel believes the cancer spread. Later, he finds out the tumor is benign.

Since these people do not have conventional training, Joel feels lonely. There have been attempts by the Denizens for Joel to feel welcomed in Alaska. One time he thought he was the only Jew in Alaska. He and Maurice quarrel when Maurice rallies a rogue Jewish Clergy. He becomes similarly annoyed at Ed and Maggie for the same reason when they discover a new doctor on a military base. However, this time Joel accepts his new friend. [9]

Love life[]

Originally, Joel has a fiancée, Elaine, in New York when he arrives in Cicely but she breaks up with him via a "Dear John" letter, devastating him,[10] though they later mend things and end their relationship on a good note.[11] Throughout the series, Joel has a love-hate relationship with Maggie O'Connell, has sex with her[12] (they finally agree they have a "mutually desirous incompatibility"),[13] and is even engaged to her for a brief time.[14]


However, towards the end of the series, Joel is seemingly won over by the lure of the Alaskan wilderness, and apparently decides to take a sabbatical and be a "bush doctor" helping those in remote areas.[15] Later, it is revealed that one of the reasons he fled has to do with Maurice extending his contract without permission. When the state of Alaska releases him from his contract, he embarks on a quest to find the fabled "Jewel City" of the north, only to realize it is his beloved New York. His final appearance on the show is on a ferry approaching Manhattan Island. [16]

One theory suggests Joel actually died on the walrus hunt, and that his final episode is largely a dream sequence in which Maggie works through her unresolved feelings while Chris uses his lawsuit against Dr. Capra to achieve closure after experiencing feelings of denial along with the rest of the town, Maurice experiences guilt over endangering Joel's life by holding him to his contract (the "old hat") while Marilyn simply accepts the loss. Maggie receives a post card possibly from Joel but with no return address. Even more startling is Maggie's P.O. Box Number is 86.


Rob Morrow had disputes during most of the show's run. The producers responded to this by preparing for his exit. Episodes such as where Maggie goes to prom, [17] episodes where he gets injured [18] / delusional [19] / might have cancer [20] ... are examples of possible outcomes for Joel's demise. Around this time, he had fewer scenes, and some episodes he does not appear at all. The final regular episode is Season 6, Episode 7. In the next episode, Joel becomes a fugitive because of his unfair contract, and is upset about Maggie's curse. The episode after that introduces the new doctor. Season 6, Episode 13 reveals that Maurice J. Minnifield held him illegally. Season 6, Episode 15 (Episode 102) is the final episode with Rob Morrow and Joel. The opening credits replace the doctor's office with a Totem Pole on the side of a red building not far from Village Pizza. The actors and actresses move up in line. Teri Polo and Paul Provenza get starring credits.


Pilot (1-1)

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

Joel: I don't don't like it - I hate it! And I demand to leave! ... Well that is because you are not the one who is supposed to spend the next 4 years of his life in this Godforsaken hole-in-the-wall, pigsty with a bunch of dirty, psychotic rednecks!

Holling: You haven't heard back from your attorney, huh?
Joel: Well, no - but as I'm sure you know, these are very, very complex legal issues here, and they take quite some time to sort out. Besides, she's got finals.

Maggie: Look, you know, if you'd rather spend the night here than at my place, don't let me get in your way!
Joel: Look, I don't want to tell you how to run your business, but this petulant aggressive thing is a real turnoff...
Maggie: I am not a hooker...jerk. I'm your landlord.

Joel: (to Maggie after a few beers) You're kinda pretty in a, like, clean sort of way.

Joel: (after Edna attacks her husband Walter twice in two days) The way I see it we have three options: divorce, separation, or you two can start talking to one another. Now, how many hands do I see for divorce? (Marilyn raises her hand; Joel doesn't miss a beat) Separation? OK, then you two should talk to each other.

Joel: And if I leave? 10,000 dollars or 18 years in jail...and 18 years in jail?!?

"Brains, Know-How, and Native Intelligence" (1-2)

Joel: My toilet is broken.
Maggie: I know, you've told me.
Joel: No, actually that's not true. It never really worked so maybe not working is its natural working condition.
Maggie: What's wrong with it?
Joel: What is wrong with it? How am I supposed to know what's wrong with it?
Maggie: Common sense, maybe? You're a doctor. You're smart. You're brilliant. Toilets are dumb.
Joel: I think this is a complicated problem. We're not talking about your average toilet malady. There is something very, very wrong with this toilet.
Maggie: You tried to fix it?
Joel: Yeah, I listened to it with my stethoscope and I used a tongue depressor! Now, I asked you three times. I cannot live without a toilet!
Maggie: Holling spent the best years of his life without a toilet. Didn't you, Holling?
Holling: In the bush; didn't bring no port-a-johnny.
Joel: Look, um...uh, I'm not the Grizzly Adams type. I had a friend who joined the Peace Corps and went to the African National Republic and, uh, he had a toilet!
Holling: It's terrible what's happening in Africa. It's one of the reasons why I stopped killing the big guys. (turns around to look at ram's head hanging on the wall behind the bar, pats it, and puts his arm around it before turning back around) Uh, you're welcome to use my john, Joel.

Joel (entering his office and sees Ed sitting in his seat): Oh, hi Ed! Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a cup of coffee--maybe a footrest?
Ed: Ehh, no thanks...maybe later. (gets up)

Ed: He is a doctor.
Joel: Oh really? Which kind?
Ed: Witch.
Joel: Which which?
Ed: Which what?
Joel: Which doctor?
Ed: Right.

Ed: Indians don't knock; it's rude.
Joel: No? What the hell do Indians do?
Ed: Use the key.

Joel: Who is that?
Chris: Mindy?
Joel: She from around here?
Chris: No. She's from, uh, Boston.
Joel: Yeah? Where'd you find her?
Chris: In the woods.
Joel: In the woods? Which woods? These woods?
Chris: Mm-hmm.
Joel: Y-You found a girl from Boston that looks like that, in these woods?
Chris: Yeah.
Joel: Wh-What was she doing here?
Chris: Just walkin'.
Joel (chuckles)

"Soapy Sanderson" (1-3)

Chris: Soapy once told me that the thing he loved most about country music was its sense of myth. There's heroes and villains, good and bad, right and wrong. The protagonists strolls into bar, which he sees as a microcosm of the big picture. He contemplates his existence and he asks himself, 'who's that babe in the red dress?' (turns to Joel) All right. Well, you know the way I see it, if you're here for four more years or four more weeks; you're here right now. You know, and I think when you're somewhere you ought to be there, and because it's not about how long you stay in a place. It's about what you do while you're there. And when you go is that place any better for you having been there?[21] Am I answering your question?.
Joel: Uh, no, not really.
Chris: (laughs) What was your question?
Joel: What am I gonna say to Maggie?
Chris: I don't know.
Joel: It would help if I hadn't had to sleep in a kennel. I-I can't even think straight.
Chris: I think you oughta just be honest. You know, don't skirt the issue. Don' know, just deal with it head-on.
Joel: I know.
Chris: I'd tell her she's got great lips.

Joel: (to Maggie) I don't like people committing suicide. All the ethical considerations aside, it's just plain bad for business.

Maggie: (to Joel) A man--a dead man--puts you in his will, and naturally you would think there's some ulterior motive.

Maggie: All you care about is you, and New York, and your precious career!
Joel: Look, Mother Theresa, I did not get off the plane and say that I am Marcus Welby, kindly physician, and all around swell guy! Okay!?! I was fully prepared to do my time in Anchorage, but I am contractually bound to this tundra under false pretenses and against my will. So if I resort to some unscrupulous practices to right a greater wrong, look, where's Amnesty International when it comes to Joel Fleischman?!?

Joel: (to Ed) I just don't like having remains in my mouth--I mean, even people I know.

Joel: (to Ed) The only consequence of all this will be, that whenever I open a nice Bordeaux, there will be the distant, distasteful memory of a nutcase who tried to kill me because I allowed her to kiss me on the cheek under false pretenses. I can live with it.

"Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens" (1-4)

Joel: You up here for some specific reason, or was it a little slow in the woods today?
Ed: No, they're about the same as always.

Joel: Chris is ordained?
Maggie: He answered a classified on the back of Rolling Stone.

"Russian Flu" (1-5)

Maggie: Would you like me to rub this all over you?
Joel: Yeah, that would be... You would?
Maggie: In your dreams, Fleischman.

"Sex, Lies and Ed's Tape" (1-6)

Joel: Nonspecific urethritis. Ya hear what I'm sayin'? Ya hear what I'm talkin' about? It's not catchy, but you ought to keep the falcon under wraps for a awhile. Otherwise, we're gonna have to clip his wings. Ya hear what I'm sayin', Valentino.
Chris: Yeah, I hear ya. (car horn honks)
Joel: Hey! Hey! I'm crossin' here! I'm crossin' here! You don't talk to a learned physician that way! Same to you, pal! Can't wait to get that jerk in the examining room. I got a barium enema with his name on it. Yeah, let me take you to Donald Trump. He's a friend of mine.
Chris: You know Donald Trump?
Joel: Oh, yeah. I started him out in the business, actually.
Chris: Whoo, boy!

"A Kodiak Moment" (1-7)

Joel: There are four words you need to know to adequately prepare yourself for childbirth. Take notes here, ladies:

Maurice: Do you know what the motto of the state of Alaska is, Joel?
Joel: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it'?
Maurice: No. "North to the future." That's my motto too. The compass point to opportunity. The direction for tomorrow.
Joel: A caribou in every pot; a snowmobile in every garage.
Maurice: Space, to build, room to grow.
Joel: You are the man for the job, Maurice; a general on the battlefield of history. If anyone can pave Alaska, it's you.
Maurice (chuckles): Kind words, son. But the Minnifield empire will not bear fruit in one man's lifetime.
Joel: Yeah, I hear it didn't work out with you and Chris. I'm sorry. You know, maybe you could start a trust: The Minnifield Foundation. It worked for the Rockefellers; the Gettys.
Maurice: No...I've come up with something else, Joel.
Joel: Really? What's that?
Maurice: I've decided to live forever.
(Joel laughs)

"Aurora Borealis" (1-8)

Joel: Hey Ed, what is this--is this a track?
Ed: Looks like a track.
Joel: Looks fresh. You know, not that I know what a fresh track looks like, but that...that's big, whatever it is. What? What is it? What's wrong?
Ed: It's a bare footprint.
Joel: As in grizzly bear footprint?
Ed: No, more like as in a person with no shoes on.

Adam: You know who I am? Do you understand what I'm trying to say? Do you know who I am?
Joel: No.
Adam: I'm Adam.
Joel (amused): Well, I'm Chef Boyardee!
Adam: What?
Joel: You're not Adam.
Adam: What do you mean, I'm not A--I'm Adam!
Joel: No, you're not. You're not Adam.

"Goodbye to All That" (2-1)

Joel: Sex should be wild. Unfettered and free. We're animals, aren't we? And, basically, we're all wolves in sheep's fur. I always wanted more. Not frequency; I am not talking about frequency--although that would have been great, too. I wanted more intensity. I wanted to be out there, outside myself, outside my skin. I wanted sex to be like robbing life out of the jaws of death!
Maggie: Wow...
Joel: Are you okay?
Maggie: Why?
Joel: Well, it's 20 below out and you're breaking a sweat.

"Spring Break" (2-5)

Joel: Yeah I'm upset. Ya wanna know why, Ed? I'll tell you. As a physician, I realize that sexual release is not crucial to survival, say like water or oxygen. But when a healthy 28-year-old male is deprived of that release, he has an awful hard time enjoying his survival.

Ruth-Anne: Here's your lingerie magazine. I was just leafing through it.
Joel: Thanks.
Ruth-Anne: Oh, wait a minute. Uh, you're using that for onanistic purposes, huh?
Joel: What? What kind of purposes?
Ruth-Anne: Auto-erotic.
Joel (flustered): Me? No Not at all. Absolutely not! I was just going to order my mom a robe.
Ruth-Anne: I think you need something a little more exciting.
Joel: Exciting?
Ruth-Anne: Here's a Playboy. Eli Nute died a month before his subscription expired.
Joel (tries not to look interested in the Playboy): Oh no. Really?
Ruth-Anne (reads the caption): Women of Norway.
Joel: Yeah well, I mean a lot of exceptional writers contribute to Playboy. There's Philip Roth, uh, Norman Mailer, the late Roald Dahl--an interview with Shintaro Ishihara?!
Ruth-Anne: Don't worry Dr. Fleishmann, its that time of year. Everybody's libido has run amok.
Joel: They rate the top ten single malt Scotches! Now I, uh, wanna read this!
Ruth-Anne: I think I've got something for you a little racier in the back room.

"Spring Break" (3-2)

Joel: Do you believe this; have you ever seen a man with this kind of incredible irresistible magnetism for the opposite sex?
Ed: James Bond
Joel: That, that's the movies Ed; try reality.
Ed: No, thanks.

Joel: What's your recollection?
Shelly: My record collection?

"Oy, Wilderness" (3-3)

Joel: What are wolverines anyway? Are they little wolves that swarm all over you and nibble you to death?

"Animals R Us" (3-4)

Ed: Marty says he likes things a little unfocused. When he started Mean Streets all he had was the East Village and a hat he found.
Joel: Wait a minute. You're talking about Marty Scorsese the director of Mean Streets and Goodfellas?
Ed: Yeah.
Joel (unconvinced): You know Martin Scorsese the director?
Ed: Not really but we're pen pals.
Joel: You and Martin Scorsese the director are pen pals?
Ed: Yup. (holds up a letter)
Joel (reads letter): "Dear Ed, Good luck with your movie. -Marty"
Ed (holds up another letter): This one's from Woody. When Annie Hall was threatened with the lobster he wanted me to see how much he rewrites on the set. (holds up a baseball cap) I got this hat from Universal Studios. Steven said it brought him luck so now I can't give up.

"The Body in Question" (3-6)

Joel: So you put 2 and 2 together and came up with 22?
Shelly: Yeah.

"A-Hunting We Will Go" (3-8)

Joel: (to Maggie) I definitely feel like I've been through something. The experience of hunting, it was great--it really was. Being out in the bush or whatever, the-the expectancy. The excitement. The total blood rush. And the killing. I mean, especially the killing. The killing was the best part. It was the dying I couldn't take.

"Get Real" (3-9)

Marilyn: Maurice needs some more antifungal cream.
Joel: Yeah, there you go, right? Antifungal cream. That is what I do. I treat athlete's foot. I treat ringworm, minor burns, scraped knees. Every once in a while I get lucky. I mean, something really challenging like an ingrown toenail or eczema. I'm not a physician. I'm a medic.
Joel: When I finally complete this indentured servitude, no one's even gonna remember who Joel Fleischman is.

"Mud and Blood" (4-23)

Joel (after taking a sip of alcohol): Crowberry. You know, it's not bad, actually. It's kind of tart. It's not unlike a Petite Sirah.


  1. "Only You" (3-2)
  2. Lives in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, New York City
  3. "Birds of a Feather" (5-6)
  4. "A Kodiak Moment" (1-7)
  5. "Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens" (1-4)
  6. "Realpolitik" (6-10)
  7. The Our Tribe Episode.
  8. The Thanksgiving Episode.
  9. Season 5, Episode 19.
  10. "Goodbye to All That" (2-1)
  11. "Roots" (3-7)
  12. "Ill Wind" (4-16)
  13. "Family Feud" (4-19)
  14. "Full Upright Position" (6-7)
  15. "Up River" (6-8)
  16. "The Quest" (6-15)
  17. Season 5, Episode 5.
  18. Season 4, Episode 25.
  19. Season 5, Episode 1.
  20. Season 6.
  21. See Buddhism and psychology