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posted: 8/29/2014 6:00 AM

Cool shows for the waning days of summer

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  • Martin Freeman, top, is Lester Nygaard and Adam Goldberg plays Mr. Numbers in "Fargo," now streaming on Hulu, Amazon, FX online and FX on demand. It was filmed in Minnesota and Calgary, Alberta.

      Martin Freeman, top, is Lester Nygaard and Adam Goldberg plays Mr. Numbers in "Fargo," now streaming on Hulu, Amazon, FX online and FX on demand. It was filmed in Minnesota and Calgary, Alberta.
    WASHINGTON POST/FX/CHRIS LARGE

  • There are nearly a dozen TV series about Alaska, including National Geographic Channel's "Life Below Zero."

      There are nearly a dozen TV series about Alaska, including National Geographic Channel's "Life Below Zero."
    WASHINGTON POST/BBC WORLDWIDE/TIM HEWETTE

 
By Roger Catlin
Special to The Washington Post

For most of the summer, the shifting polar vortex slid down on the U.S. like an oversized beret. This made for some unusually pleasant summer evenings. But now the heat is back somewhat. So for those days when the air conditioner struggles, here are some entertainment options that may aid in the cooling-off process.

Alaska TV

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There are nearly a dozen TV series about the 49th state, where the appeal is a setting touted as the last American frontier. An added benefit is that it's cold most of the year.

Discovery's "Bering Sea Gold," for example, opened its fourth season Aug. 22, with participants digging through four feet of ice in hopes of finding their fortune.

"Ice Lake Rebels," which began its 10-week run July 27 on Animal Planet, has hearty souls competing for the most secure locations for their dwellings on the ice of the Great Slave Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories, about the same latitude as Alaska and due east.

"Ice Road Truckers" is in its eighth season this summer on the History channel, proving it has a history of showing transport of goods on the world's longest and most treacherous winter roads.

But one series that focuses on the frigid temperature right in the title is National Geographic Channel's "Life Below Zero."

When its participants came to California to talk to TV critics last month, they could hardly believe experiencing warm weather when it was dark at night -- something they usually associate with the deepest freeze. To celebrate, Sue Aikens, one of the subjects of "Life Below Zero," said, "I flushed the toilets. Never gets old." Said another member of the cast, Kate Bassich: "You try an outhouse at 50 below, and then you come here in this beautiful, warm weather that has toilets? I mean, paradise!"

Filming "Life Below Zero," producer Travis Shakespeare says, "is as much of a challenge, I think, as living in remote Alaska. Our crews face temperatures as harsh as negative 50, negative 60 below. Just this season, one of our crews had to go into another area in the Brooks Range where it was so cold that they couldn't light liquid fuel with a match when they landed. So it really was a life-or-death situation for the crew and the cast, just to kind of begin to warm themselves and be able to survive."

In other words: Perfect summer viewing!

'Fargo'

The first season of TV's "Fargo" won't be out on DVD until Oct. 14, but it's streaming on Hulu, Amazon, FX online and FX on demand. The acclaimed and Emmy-nominated variation of the Coen Brothers' classic pretty much stayed snowy throughout its 13 episodes. Series creator Noah Hawley says the cold was "definitely a character in the show" and will continue to be for season two, although he adds: "We're not writing another blizzard episode. That's for sure." Producer Warren Littlefield said the production thrived in the cold, shooting even farther north than Minnesota, in Calgary, whose frigid surroundings "gave us that feel, that character that you enjoyed in the picture." They're looking for more of the same when season two starts production there in January.

'Frozen'

Your kids haven't stopped singing the songs since the movie came out at Thanksgiving. You had to see it repeatedly in theaters and were cajoled to buy the DVD when it was released in March. There's no avoiding it.

"Frozen" made its cable debut on Starz on July 11, and it will be part of the storyline of ABC's "Once Upon a Time" this fall.

Chilly movies

Let's track down some other movies that are so firmly set in the cold weather, they may succeed in bumping the temperature down a degree or two. I'm thinking Ang Lee's 1997 "The Ice Storm," the snow surrounding the empty hotel in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 "The Shining," or the forbidding Antarctic in John Carpenter's 1982 "The Thing." How about the relative splendor of the winter in David Lean's 1965 epic "Doctor Zhivago," the rural chill of Sam Raimi's 1998 "A Simple Plan" and the existential cold of Ingmar Bergman's 1963 "Winter Light"? This doesn't even include animated Arctic movies from the two "Happy Feet" films to all four of the "Ice Age" series.

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