Random weirdness for the week of Nov. 19, 2019


Our immediate frontrunner for the best sentence written about Svalbard this year: “It’s a wasteland whose residents all hate each other, where violent feuds are the only form of social interaction, and where, if you were to stumble across kids building a snowman, they’d be pallid Addams-styled tots who’ve used carrots to stab the thing instead of giving him a nose.”

That description of a certain icy isolated island town here is meant to get readers into the Christmas spirit in much the way the Grinch did, although “it’s a kind of hell (he) could barely have envisioned for Whoville, and the town’s two main clans (the Krums and Ellingboes) like it that way.” But before casting coal lumps at laid-off miners or fresh-faced foreigners, keep in mind the narrative is from the same type of brainiacs who’ve made the world think life here is like “Fortitude.” This time it’s a Netflix animated film titled “Klaus” (available since last Friday after a weeklong theatrical release), following the misadventure of Jesper, a spoiled rich kid sent from the mainland by his dad to learn the family trade by going postal – in the literal sense as a mail carrier. His mission reads like an Age of Empires achievement: move 6,000 letters through the hapless local post office in order to return home. Luckily in this town known as Smeerenburg – which, like Fortitude, gives viewers the skewed impression we have things like trees here – there are a few “outsiders with good intentions” (cue outrage about the rapidly closing Norwegian/foreign resident gap in real life). And, as the writer of the above review notes, you can pretty much guess where the story goes from there. Still, the buzz for this one is hot so far and even if Netflix isn’t your pick among the 78 streaming services it’s now possible pay for (give or take a few), it’s possible to get lots of entertainment just by picking out how many things you can spot that are wrong about Svalbard in the trailer (if we were the types with money to offer as a prize, we’d give it to anyone who can spot more that’s right than wrecked)…


Wrath of dog? All those grim faces in a world of extremes suggests these may indeed be dismal Dark times. Image by BBC Studios.

If the above description of Svalbard made you think “God awful” then kudos, that’s the catchphrase for the review of yet another new surreal screen show. Alas, it’s for the BBC1 series “His Dark Materials,” based on the triology by Philip Pullman that’s given us armoured polar bears and other fantasy icons. Corporate types at the network might be tempted to do the Misleading Blurb thing since the reviewer declares “‘His Dark Materials’ has indeed become my Sunday night obsession,” except the rest of the sentence ponders “how can the BBC’s most-expensive-ever drama series possibly look, sound and feel so clunkingly, God-awfully, disappointingly flat?” Maybe the reviewer has a built in-bias (“Philip Pullman’s trilogy is an extended, bitter rant against Christianity disguised as children’s entertainment”), but there are still some kind words for the novels (“when I finally saw the magnificence of Svalbard, I found myself thinking: ‘So this is where Iorek Byrnison lives!’ — and neither book nor landscape felt wanting in the comparison.”). But the opening episode suggests the TV series is “going to be as exciting as a grey fortnight becalmed in the doldrums with no wifi or cards or Pass the Pigs.” For those dismayed by so much Dark downer, we’ll note the always reliable Wikipedia notes the series is getting generally favorable scores from the reviewer community at large…


Fishy foe: You gotta question the personnel department of a whaling ship when it hires a Batman villain as part of the crew. Photo by BBC Studios.

But if that doesn’t strike you as a whale of a tale, fear not – the BBC is to the rescue with yet another new program titled “The North Water,” which is “set to star Jack O’Connell as a disgraced former army surgeon serving on an Arctic whaling boat with a brutal killer played by The Batman star Colin Farrell.” Because, of course, that sounds a lot like reel life on the seas of Svalbard (yup, alternate spelling is intentional). The article in the link notes “Graham recently spent three weeks filming in Svalbard at the North Pole” (eye roll for the 1,300-kilometer location transplant) and he offered the requisite quotes about the thrill/dismay of seeing polar bears in a changing climate. The four-part series (air date unknown) is set in the 1800s and based on the 2016 novel by Ian McGuire which, again citing the all-knowing Wikipedia, has gotten rather stellar reviews. Not that we’re the jealous writer types to suggest the TV folks are going to screw things up, but the fact they’re importing The Penguin to Svalbard to be one of the co-stars isn’t a promising start…




Arctic outpost radio