Arctic Rollercoaster




That’s right, this column was simply an excuse to hide the name of a seventies dessert in the heading.

You know the drill, a TV show model developed in the US; half a dozen characters meet in a single location (or ‘precinct’) and find out what connects them, but it takes seven seasons to unravel the plot arc. The most cynical example was ‘Lost’, whose writers lied to viewers about knowing what they were doing.

It’s a successful model, eating into local network viewing habits and driving Hollywood profits down. Studios are finding their century-long domestic model is suffering loyalty loss as they shed their Millennial audience.

But not all shows are created equal, and here’s something surprising from the industry trade papers; Hollywood can’t tell what will be a hit, but TV can.

Algorithmic evidence showed that ‘House of Cards’ would be a success before it even went before the cameras. So shows can be graded into ‘hit’ and ‘moderate’ viewing and budgeted accordingly.

Perhaps the algorithm can go wrong, though. I personally found ‘Westworld’ unwatchable, with its insanely over-complex plot, its uninteresting premise (sentient robots again) and its endless loop of killing and humping.

One series that’s more worthy of your attention is ‘Fortitude’. Forget that the tiny island on which this is set has a murder rate five times higher than the Bronx in the 1970s, there’s solid writing, a puzzle that grips, and the first season was neatly resolved.

I’m hooked on quality longform viewing because I’ll watch via my phone on planes, buses and trains. Too many of Hollywood’s theatrical releases are over-explanatory and repetitive (I think I’ve seen every kitchen configuration available in the USA).

So stories set in snowy wastelands feel fresh. Nordic-noirs like ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’ eased us in gently as the UK slowly realised it was nearer to Scandiwegia than Spain, and had more in common with dour people wrapped in puffa jackets than bongo-playing Latins in shorts.

Jo Nesbo hit the scandi-crime novel scene big time (quite right too). Then came the TV show ‘Trapped’, upon which my spouse became fixated, yelling ‘Heat loss!’ whenever a girl in a negligee stood in the open doorway of her house in a snowstorm, until an Icelandic friend of mine pointed out; ‘We live on a volcano – free central heating.’

I always loved ‘The Thing’ in all its incarnations. Here was a story in which hostility came from without as well as within. ‘Fortitude’ raised the stakes, finding its feet in Season 2, which mines black humour, surrealism, mysticism and Gothic grue to great effect (Killer wasps! Rabid reindeer! Shamans! Norwegian politics!) Stanley Tucci and Michael Gambon have been replaced by Ken Stott and a perfectly cast Dennis Quaid.

‘Fortitude’ understands that like all fictional mysteries it must use anagnorisis, the sudden  revelation that reveals the true situation. But it drip-feeds at the right speed, has a real-looking cast of varied ages and the the confidence to go AWOL for entire episodes while still delivering viewer satisfaction.

It’s also happy to subvert clichés. At one point Sofie GrÃ¥bøl hides behind a hotel room shower curtain as its owner returns – only to have him reach in and turn on just the hot tap of the bath, scalding her feet.

It evolves and involves. The final shot of S2.6 made me scream, which was embarrassing as I was on a plane. The show is filmed in Iceland but I figure this must be geographically located in Svalbard, because the island is operated from Oslo.

So, to find out a bit more I’m going with some friends to the Arctic Circle next month to visit Svalbard – the closest town to the North Pole. I doubt we’ll get Fortitude’s ‘blood aurora’ but it’ll be an experience.

I’ll be sharing what happens here. Let’s hope the mutant reindeer have moved on by then, and that it’s more appealing than its surrogate description in ‘Fortitude’; ‘A shithole full of armed drunks.’


3 comments on “Arctic Rollercoaster”

  1. Gary Hart says:

    I cannot agree more. Fortitude is a breath of fresh (and very cold) air. Having such high calibre acting in it really makes a difference. Stanley Tucci and Michael Gambon were excellent in S1. And I’ve always thought Dennis Quaid was underused. I am also Impressed by our very own Darren Boyd. He is very convincing as the straight-laced and a little weird school teacher.

    Love it and can’t wait to see what strangeness S2 will uncover.

  2. SteveB says:

    I enjoyed Fortitude also, though in the early episodes I remember the writers hand was quite visible, things like the kid wandering out in the cold, etc.

  3. Rachel Green says:

    Thanks for the rec 🙂

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