Northern Rescue is a familiar-feeling procedural show with a side serving of family drama. Despite being a very well-trodden path Northern Rescue ends up being quite entertaining, and even quite fun in places. If you can get beyond the cliches then you might actually enjoy it.
John West (William Baldwin) is a search and rescue-er, the kind that rescues people after climbing accidents or the like, rather than an adventuring mouse. He’s very good at his job but he lacks the personal skills and emotional range to really engage with his family. Everything seems to be ticking over nicely for him, his wife Sarah (Michelle Nolden) and their three children Maddie (Amalia Williamson), Scout (Spencer Macpherson) and Taylor (Taylor Throne) until tragedy strikes. After the death of Sarah, John relocates the family to Turtle Bay Island (his and Sarah’s hometown) to live with their Aunt Charlie (Kathleen Robertson). As you might imagine not everyone is pleased with the move.
If you’ve seen pretty much any American procedural or family drama in the last 20 years then you will definitely recognize a lot of the elements of Northern Rescue. We have a father who is fantastic at his job but struggles to connect with people, and there’s a tragedy that forces the family to re-evaluate their lives as they learn to cope with their new world. The family is forced to leave their comfort zone (Boston) to adapt to small-town life. They now have a quirky living situation as they live in a disused aquarium (no really, they do). Even the children are lazily drawn stereotypes: Maddie is a rebellious teenager who likes staying out late, drinking and hanging out with boys. Scout (yes they really called their son Scout, because they clearly hated him) lives in his father’s shadow, desperately trying to compete with the sporting legacy of John West (he was a great wrestler as well as the purveyor of fine canned fish). Last but by no means most original is Taylor, a precocious child with an aptitude for coding and building robots.
Each week the show follows a Search and Rescue incident set to the backdrop of family drama, as the family slowly bond and their mother’s history gently comes to light. It’s very by the numbers, both in terms of the family dynamics and the ‘accident of the week’ format that it seems to be adopting.
Even the performances aren’t solid enough to have that as a redeeming feature. The kids are functional at best, with Maddie probably being the most interesting of the three, but that does feel like a neg. William Baldwin, possibly the lesser of all the Baldwins, spends most of his time on screen squinting. He looks like he’s spent the last few years at the French Stewart school of acting, and actually modeled his entire look on French.
Despite everything I’ve said, I found myself actually enjoying Northern Rescue. It’s cliched as hell but I found myself being entertained despite myself. It’s a bit like sitting eating a big back of sweets; I know they’re destroying my teeth, my body and my mind but at the same time it’s nice to be enveloped in their sickly, comforting presence. On paper, it sounds like the most hackneyed show that you could create, and in practice it really is, but something in it just works for me. It’s the perfect storm of easy-going guff and small-town charm.
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Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.