A politically-savvy, action-packed movie/TV pilot, called Borealis, appeared and then disappeared without a trace last week. It's one of the great tragedies of TV series that don't get pickup — you catch a glimpse of the awesomeness that could have been, and then you are left pining for more. Produced in Canada, it's the near-future tale of a tiny town at the center of an international struggle for Arctic resources in an age of peak oil. The acting is great; the plot twists are delightfully original; and there is a cage fight. You may mourn the TV series it might have been, but Borealis also works as a mind-bending SF movie all on its own.
Vic (the awesome Ty Olssen) is a former MMA fighter turned Canadian government agent, who runs a bar in the tiny town of Borealis — where Russians, Norwegians, Canadians, and the League of Nations are all trying to claim sovereignty over an area that could yield the world's last fossil fuel resources. It's also next to a protected wildlife territory owned by Canada, and Alison (Michelle Harrison) is an environmental scientist using her extremely popular blog and guns to fight off hunters who want to shoot the endangered polar bears and foxes for their valuable coats. In a very smart take on corporate science, there's also a mercenary anthropologist who is working with the Russians to find evidence of pre-industrial human habitation in the area. If these early settlers turn out to have been Russian, that could help the nation with its sovereignty claims.
There's a great showdown between Alison and the anthropologist over corporate sellout science. Which — how often do you see a science fiction movie with a main character who is a heroic blogger fighting against corporate-sponsored anthropology? Did somebody from the Public Library of Science consult on this flick? Teasing out the tangle of science, politics, and economics of this near-future Arctic is a sheer pleasure. It means that solving the murder mystery at the heart of this film isn't just about tracking down a killer. It's about understanding an all-too-believable political economy of the mid-twenty-first century.
The flick begins with a body falling out of the sky, right in front of Vic's skidoo. Who is it? Why was he killed? What does it all have to do with a set of 1000-year-old nails found at an archeological dig? And why the hell is there a League of Nations intervening in all this? While we delve into this mystery, we also learn more about the hard-bitten Vic and his best buddy, Taq (Patrick Gallagher), a métis who is constantly messing with everybody by offering fake "Native wisdom." This show has its fair share of humor, and when Vic decides to challenge the local Russian group, it has its fair share of macho punch-outs too. As I said earlier, there is a cage fight.
Political smarts, humor and action? Why isn't this a series that is being pumped directly into your brain every week?
Ty Olssen told TVEquals:
I don't know all the politics. CTV/SPACE Channel wanted to pick up the series, but someone at Bell Media, which is kind of the parent company, said no, due to a change in management. So we've gotten sort of lost in the transition. I don't really understand it, but I really want to see what an audience thinks of it because that's been the one thing that's been missing. But [SPACE] announced with four days notice. You can't advertize a yard sale in that amount of time. Honestly at this point I'm not pretending that it wouldn't take an absolute miracle for something to happen, but I'm just stubborn and I'd love for the world to see a piece of me. I would feel somewhat justified if an audience sees it and goes, "you know what, this is a really good show." Just people viewing it will be more payment than we'll ever see from this project. And you never know, the wishful thinking is that a miracle could happen.
So find a way to watch this show — it's streaming for folks in Canada. And for people elsewhere, well, I'm sure you can find a way.
If you love the pilot and want more, Olsson is asking that you tweet at @BellMediaPR and @SPACEChannel with the hashtag #borealis and let them know, too.