Many of the ten Longyearbyen residents cast as the “stars” of the BBC Earth reality TV series “Svalbard: Life on the Edge” (“Ice Town: Life on the Edge” outside Norway) are gathering at 7 p.m. Saturday at Kulturhuset for a preview screening of the debut episode. As one of the “characters” I’ll be liveblogging some general impressions and reactions from other locals without revealing the “plot.” I’ll also be liveblogging both public previews – with spoilers – at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday.
7:11 p.m.: Still waiting for a few folks to get here. Everybody but me is noshing on wine, beer, chips and nuts in the meantime.
7:25 p.m.: And we’re underway. First line: “The day you don’t take your rifle with you will be the day you meet the bear.” Christine and Grace Ireland are the first characters introduced. She’s UNIS grad student from Britain, he’s a chef from Scotland. We get about five minutes of them together away from work and studies.
7:29 p.m.: Backing up to the intro, the Opening theme music was full of drastic strings and percussion thumps, as would be expected, and the usually scenic shots of wildlife, dogsledding, etc. No better or worse than the thousands (OK, hundreds at the top-end level) of other documentaries and shows.
7:31 p.m.: BTW, we also learned beforehand this will be a double-header screening – we’ll being seeing episode two after an intermission.
7:33 p.m.: Mary-Ann Dahle, owner of Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg, is next character, shown at her lodge and with her famous bear coat. People will definitely get a different perspective on polar bears from her tour of the lodge.
7:34 p.m.: Some pretty horrible audio static at times during the past few minutes – hope it’s not part of the preview tape.
7:35 p.m.: Crowd’s been laughing quite a bit during Mary-Ann’s intro, in the good kind of way. No surprise – there’s no way for a camera not to show her for who she is.
7:39 p.m.: Alex Pilditch, SvalSat employee and tour guide from Britain, is the next character. He’s playing the latter part at first.
7:40 p.m.: Alex is basically the show’s intro to the dangers of Svalbard.
7:41 p.m.: Back to Mary-Ann in her kitchen making her rather unusual and non-PC menu items.
7:42 p.m.: Back to Alex and his version of lunch in the field.
7:43 p.m.: The show doesn’t quite cut scenes every second like the trailer did, but there aren’t any shots lasting more than several seconds (and those are rare). It’s not irritating for an intro episode since it’s trying to cover a lot of ground in a hurry, but hopefully won’t be the norm when deeper things are happening.
7:44 p.m.: Back to Mary-Ann doing more food stuff. I’m getting an idea why we might be seeing the first two shows: they might need both to show all ten characters.
7:45 p.m.: BTW, I’ve never done a liveblog before, so for those who find it lacks polish (and is full of typos, etc.) hopefully I’ll get better at this as the series progresses.
7:47 p.m.: And I’m up! And sure enough, it appears I’ll be comic relief. And their first words about me were “L.A. crime reporter.” 🙁
7:49 p.m.: The crowd is laughing at me, not with me, as I go about my bumbling business. For good reason. No amount of special effects and selective cutting can mask the fact I’m insane and incompetent.
7:51 p.m.: Back to Christine and Grace doing something similar as me, but competently. I gotta say, I got a bit bored during my intro since I wasn’t doing anything very Svalbard-like (and rather annoyed at my overly nasal voice).
7:54 p.m.: Still waiting to see Wiggo and Leif (stay tuned for their full names when introduced), but so far Chrstine, Grace and Mary-Ann are coming off as really strong in terms of “character” value. Christine and Grace at the moment are interacting very naturally with each other and their sled dogs.
7:55 p.m.: More me, making a total fool of myself. More laughs from the crowd.
8 p.m.: Christine and Grace, homebodies.
8:02 p.m.: Me again. Covering a relatively minor story, badly.
8:03 p.m.: I’m actually shown talking quietly and about how L.A. is nothing like what I’m about. Nice and I should mention some of the first words I utter in my first appearance are about spending most of my life in small, cold mountain towns. Doesn’t negate the overall “L.A. crime reporter” obsession, but it’s a nod toward fairness.
8:04 p.m.: Alex is finally back, doing his version of “basic training.” And he gets his first laugh in-between a lot of stuff that shows him as a solid and rugged character (he spoke the opening line about rifles).
8:08 p.m.: Faceplam. The spring bear sighting on the edge of town is getting played up far too dramatically. Knew this was coming from promo stuff…
8:09 p.m.: The less said about this scene the better, BUT the camera work is extremely impressive. Outside audiences will love the whole thing, hence the reason it’s basically the climactic bit of the opening episode.
8:11 p.m.: The show ends on my best line, which I hope the series follows: “Reality here is stranger than anything you can invent.”
8:14 p.m.: Intermission. Not surprising, people seem to like the parts of the show they’re not in.
8:24 p.m.: Episode 2 (“Life is Fragile”) begins and…at last we see Wiggo Antonsen, taxi driver and presumed first-among-equals character. Astounded he wasn’t in episode one instead of me or Alex. Same for Leif Magne Helgesen, the priest at Svalbard Church.
8:25 p.m.: Uh-oh. If this is the “avalanche” episode it doesn’t bode well with Wiggo greeting his guests with a joke about dying in your own blood.
8:26 p.m.: Wiggo: “If a story ends with death, it is a good story.” This is seriously not good.
8:27 p.m.: Chris Borstad, a snow and avalanche expert at UNIS, is introduced and it’s all about explaining the dangers of snowslides.
8:30 p.m.: Leif gets his intro at an outdoor All Saints Day Mass and torchlight procession. Again, the emphasis is on death.
8:31 p.m.: He utters the show’s title (“life is fragile”).
8:33 p.m.: Benjamin Vidmar, one-man crusader from the U.S., and his greenhouse project gets introduced.
8:35 p.m.: He’s a natural on camera as he offers a tour of his plants and worms, and cooks at work. So, for that matter, are Leif (spiritual intellect) and Wiggo (comedic storyteller).
8:37 p.m.: Green Dog musher Ben (hopefully one short and one long reference will keep the two “Bens” distinct) gets his intro at the kennels and on the trail as the polar night sets in.
8:39 p.m.: And we get a drama shot, crowd laughs a bit, but narration is making the whole thing seem a bit extreme.
8:41 p.m.: Not a bad intro for him, drama aside.
8:43 p.m.: Back to Wiggo and him talking about the Northern Lights. Beginning to look like we’ll duck the avalanche thing. But the narrator indulges in some idiocy by declaring Wiggo can offer a guaranteed view of the Northern Lights (if I heard it right).
8:44 p.m.: Nice scene with a real aspect of the tourism business here.
8:45 p.m.: Ben in his kitchen with his greenhouse stuff and a mystery guest. Comic potential abound.
8:46 p.m.: We have our first appearance of an episode one character as Mary-Ann picks up her Christmas tree in November.
8:52 p.m.: Chris does some snow training.
8:53 p.m.: Claudia, “the Colombia worm killer” and Wiggo’s wife, gets her intro to many laughs. She and Wiggo together getting probably the loudest laughs so far as they do Christmas stuff.
8:54 p.m.: Wiggo is meant to play Santa Claus.
8:56 p.m.: Ben and his worms just surpassed Wiggo and Claudia for laughs.
8:57 p.m.: And Leif does an early Christmass Mass, Svalbard style.
8:58 p.m.: Oh, good grief. The show’s playing this up as a death-defying moment.
8:59 p.m.: Back to Wiggo in his taxi. The show’s doing a good job continuing a theme it started with him early. Same thing with Ben. Many of the other intros in the first two episodes have been sort of a random mesh of the character’s lives.
9:02 p.m.: Leif and tense music as the show pretends things are still “on the edge.” Once they stop with that nonsense, a pretty good scene revolving around a small part of the archipelago emerges.
9:04 p.m.: Chris doing more avalanche research at 4:45 a.m.
9:06 p.m.: The narration following Chris isn’t quite an evolving story, but it’s doing a good job of getting viewers familiar with the many aspects of avalanches in easily digestible bits.
9:07: p.m.: Lighting of Christmas tree on first Sunday of Advent. Leif narrates the torchlight procession to the tree, nice wrap-up of the weirdness.
9:08 p.m.: Oh, crap. Show ends with that monster storm on Dec. 18. Preview of next episode shows it will be about the avalanche. One character I talked to said that will be the make-or-break in terms of whether he favors it or not.
9:34 p.m.: Overall sense after talking to other characters is they feel it’s good so far (except the parts they’re in), but there’s concern about the avalanche episode. If that one is done well I suspect the show’s local favorability rating will be very high. Also, while I initially winced seeing the Dec. 18 storm, it’s obviously a huge and legit cliffhanger, and it’s a ballsy move for the series to tackle that tragedy so early. Hopefully I’ll get a sense from the show execs why that decision was made when I blog tomorow’s previews.
12:43 a.m. Sunday: After a bit of time to process both episodes, episode two is by farcthe better one, especially from a local perspective since it moves beyond the “this is Svalbard” basics to some specific issues and minor plotlines (starring Wiggo, Claudie and Benjamin V. in the funniest scenes of the first two shows). The final minute and “next episode” preview will doubtless be conversation fodder.
A public local screening of epiosode one will be shown at 3 p.m. and episode two at 9:30 p.m. at Kulturhuset. I’ll liveblog both, offering both spoilers and reaction from local residents and visitors not in the show.