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Reason At publication time, the series hadn't aired in the States; we got screeners.

Screens: Pivot

In The Tooch We Trust

Everything you need to know about Pivot's limited-edition Arctic thriller, Fortitude.

What is this thing?

The Arctic town of Fortitude, pop. 700+, has no crime. Everyone who lives there is there for work, and with everyone gainfully employed, there is no crime -- or so various residents say, though that concept wouldn't seem to allow for the vagaries of human behavior. And the fact that various humans keep turning up dead in what the perpetrator (...s?) seem to hope will look like bear attacks.

Everyone seems to have secrets, except young Liam, who has mumps, got over that, and now has severe frostbite; and DCI The Tooch, who has suspicions, and no time for the local sheriff's alcoholic and territorial bullshit.

So, it's a small-town-murder thriller, so far: Broadchurch's unvarnished and uncondescending take on the ways of tiny communities + the strong sense Northern Exposure gave viewers of what it's like to live that far north + Top Of The Lake's sense that something (scary) is happening just out of frame + the IKEA catalog. Okay, it says more about me that I recognized at least half a dozen products, by name, than it does about a production that's, you know, in Scandinavia, but: 'sup, Asele lamp.

When is it on?

Thursdays at 10 PM on Pivot.

Just...makin' channels up now?

No, it's really a thing; go here to see if it's on your cable/satellite system. Should be near MTV and Spike and those.

Why now?

That's a very good question, because it's not like we've got a shortage of serial TV crime stories -- by which I mean told serially, a la The Missing, versus about serial killers, though it's not like we'll ever run out of those either, Anthony Zuiker, but anyway: the success of limited-edition, prestige-basic-cable thrillers like Top Of The Lake, The Missing, and even True Detective or The Killing have made it clear that a genre that can seem tired and cynical if it's done poorly also still has a lot to offer if it's done well and doesn't take shortcuts.

And maybe the universe decided it was time to give Simon Donald something else to do with his time besides smiling tightly through jokes about Low Winter Sun.

What's its pedigree?

See above; that's where things get a little dicey. Low Winter Sun is Donald's most recognizable credit. The Fortitude cast is what makes the series promising: Stanley Tucci as DCI Morton; Christopher Eccleston as a local researcher, Stoddart; the original The Killing's Sofie Gråbøl as the town's governor, who's trying to get a glacier resort built, against Eccleston's instincts; Michael Gambon as a terminally ill gadfly who's drinking himself to death, but not so quickly and thoroughly that he couldn't still make trouble for the sketchy sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer of GoT).

But it's all about The Tooch. The minute my man shows up to help out with the investigation into the non-bear attack on Stoddart, Fortitude gains momentum and focus.

...And?

If you liked the shows I mentioned above, you'll also like Fortitude. It's good at world-building, as I said, and at giving us a look at a world most of us don't know, and wouldn't want to find out about firsthand -- cold, remote, dark all day part of the year, parochial, incestuous.

The show does a good job with the secrets I also mentioned above, too. The connections between and among various characters become clear organically, without clumsy exposition. And there isn't just one "case" to follow; in addition to the (possibly-not-)mauling deaths, you've got a missing researcher who's run off with a guy who may have unearthed an ancient animal specimen, but wanted to get paid for it; you've got Liam's illness, which is probably mumps but maybe polio and even possibly ancient aliens; you've got whatever hotel "incident" befell Elena, who's now pointing a hunting rifle at the door of her room when the sheriff's lurking outside; and maybe Henry saw something and maybe he didn't, and maybe he killed that Pettigrew guy and maybe he didn't, and maybe the sheriff is a territorial shadeball with something to hide, but then again maybe he's just misunderstood, and unlucky about when he chooses to get ripshit on vodka. And who knows what his deputy, the governor's husband, is up to. We know a bear trap closed on his leg, and we know his wife thinks he's lying about why that happened. And we don't know much else.

The Tooch is awesome, though, even when Morton is kind of maybe hitting on the Widow Stoddart on the plane ride, and Fortitude is not afraid to make with the gore:

2015-01-29-fortitude-bear-kibble

...But?

As many words as I've written over the years pointing and laughing at clumsy exposition, it's not the worst thing in the world, and Fortitude's first hour could use a little more, if only to light a fire under things. I mean, this is a tiny town; it can only provide so many suspects or explanations over the course of 12 episodes -- and given that that's the episode order, the pacing is a liiiiittle on the stately side. I can reserve judgment on that for a few eps, because I think we've now got all the important pieces in place...but Low Winter Sun had problems balancing atmospherics and forward motion.

And Arctic Pixie Dream Girl Elena is kind of the worst, with the fuzzy sweaters and the pouting and the showing up at her married lover's house so they can bone on his workbench, letting his ill child escape out the window and get frostbite. Granted, nobody could have foreseen Liam's going on walkabout, but still. Shut up, Elena.

Eccleston died, then came back to life, then died again, but he's listed for 12 episodes. It's likely flashbacks, and that's unfortunate; he has a dry humor Fortitude could use.

...So?

I liked it; I want to see what happens, and the fact that unlikeable characters could literally get eaten by a polar bear is very appealing. Plus, The Tooch.

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