For most of the summer, the shifting polar vortex has slid down on the East Coast like an oversized beret. This has made for some unusually pleasant summer evenings in a place known for regularly serving up the kind of hot humidity blast you associate with a fryer oven. ¶ The heat, we can safely assume, is still coming even as Labor Day approaches. And because we’ve been so spoiled by the unseasonably cool weather, it will probably feel worse when it gets here. ¶ So for those inevitable days when the air conditioner struggles to keep up, there are some entertainment options that may aid in the cooling-off process.
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 Friday, 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!
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.
You know Björk. You know Sigur Rós. But there’s a whole crop of Icelandic rock and pop that continues to cast shivers with acts such as the multi-instrumentalist Sóley and the dub-techno star Yagya. But that’s not the only performing art form for the Land of Fire and Ice (so named because of the volcanoes, you know). A taste of Iceland is only a train ride away this summer as the new rock musical “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter,” by Iceland’s Ívar Páll Jónsson, opened off-Broadway at New York’s Minetta Lane Theatre on Aug. 13.
Because it’s the biggest season of the year, by far, for Hallmark Channel, with its years of original movies scored by jingle bells and gently falling snow, the channel actually busted out a week’s worth of Christmas movies last month, possibly to accomplish this very chilling-in-summer idea. “Christmas in July” drew 20.5 million viewers on Hallmark Channel and the Hallmark Movie Channel, spokesmen say.
To help tout the announcement of a dozen new Christmas made-for-TV movie titles premiering this year, Hallmark threw a Christmas-themed party last month at the TV Critics Association’s summer press tour, complete with a towering tree, at a Beverly Hills mansion. People sang carols. They gave away ornaments. The weather was already rather cool that evening, but they almost managed to bring snow.
It’s not only malls and libraries that give the public air-conditioned relief. So do museums. And at the National Gallery of Art, with a little hunting, you also can take in some paintings of wintry scenes that may help put your mind to the other end of the calendar.
Currently you may find John Henry Twachtman’s late 19th-century “Winter Harmony,” with its gauzy view of a snow-surrounded pond. There is the gnarled bare tree and snow-bearing barn in George Henry Durrie’s “Winter in the Country.” George Catlin’s “Buffalo Chase in the Snow Drifts – Ojibbeway” leaves its bison imprints in the white.
The 17th-century Dutch painters seemed to love the winter and, in particular, activity on the ice, which can be found in Jan van Goyen’s 1646 “Ice Scene near a Wooden Observation Tower” and Adam van Breen’s “Skating on the Frozen Amstel River” from 1611.
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. Now there’s no avoiding it. “Frozen” made its cable debut on Starz on July 11. The soundtrack has sold 3 million copies and topped the charts for 13 nonconsecutive weeks. It’s still at No. 2 after 35 weeks (as of Aug. 1).
“Frozen” will be part of the storyline of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” this fall. Tickets are on sale for the possibly redundant “Disney on Ice: Frozen” coming to the Patriot Center for 12 shows Oct. 22-27 and the Baltimore Arena for 10 shows Oct. 29-Nov. 2. You’ve been so inundated by “Frozen” that you have probably forgotten it was about the cold-weather powers of a young girl, who you probably wish were around about now.
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.
Nope, nobody is doing Tchaikovsky in the summer. The Snow Queen’s at the beach. Put on the recording instead.
Catlin is a freelance writer.