A closeup look at tonight's TV
"Hang onto your hats, boys," comes a scratchy voice over the radio. The high-flying, white-knuckle ride Ice Pilots NWT takes to the skies with a new season tonight, but this time there's a new sense of sobriety and urgency.
The veteran docureality series is now in its fourth season, so the initial novelty - frostbitten pilots testing the elements in battered DC-3s and Lockheed turboprops while ferrying supplies across Canada's great white north - no longer seems so fresh and new.
In tonight's show-opening teaser, there's an intimation of impending tragedy and a suggestion that, as laid-back and fun-loving as the guys and gals of Buffalo Airways might seem at times, fate is always lurking around the corner.
The only predictable thing about the elements is that they're unpredictable. When coupled with mechanical failure, they can prove deadly. The only variable that can be eliminated is pilot error, and Buffalo Airways' cranky, elderly proprietor (Buffalo) Joe McBryan takes it on himself to make sure that never happens - even if it makes him seem ornery and impossible to be around.
Ice Pilots NWT opens with Buffalo Joe in an uncharacteristically philosophical mood. Yellowknife and surrounding communities have been shaken by three crashes in little more than a month, and the names and faces of those who have died loom large in the community's consciousness. The season picks up shortly after the Aug. 20, 2011, crash of First Air Flight 6560 in heavy fog off Nunavut's Resolute Bay, killing 12 of the 15 people aboard. Little remains of those who have died other than fond memories and their smiling faces in faded snapshots.
The hour opens with a memorial flyover over Yellowknife, and it makes a fitting and elegiac salute to people who make their living from the skies.
It isn't long, though, before the day-to-day routine returns to normal, and Buffalo Joe is once again scowling and railing against sloppy work habits. Thanks to the success of the TV show, Buffalo Airways has become a cause cÃ©lèbre, so when a film crew comes to Yellowknife to score some aerial footage in Buffalo's aging fleet of DC-3s and DC-4s, Buffalo Joe - none too cheerful at the best of times - is especially irritable and impatient with the Hollywood North types. He has little time for fiction. Buffalo Airways is about real-life drama, day in and day out. It's one of the reasons Ice Pilots NWT is so compelling to watch.
"A [fictional] drama is one person's imagination - a writer," a scowling Buffalo Joe tells the camera, early in today's hour. "Somebody who hasn't done it. So it's easy for them to [demand] something that hasn't been done."
Ice Pilots NWT is made in the style of most other docureality programs, with peppy music and fast editing. What would seem annoying if the subject weren't so compelling - the chatty voice-over, the relentlessly chirpy background music, etc. - is just a minor distraction. Ice Pilots NWT soars because it's real. There are no contrived challenges, no fake competition between pilots and mechanics, other than the real-life competition of wanting to score the most challenging, highest-paying flight assignments and possibly move up the promotion ladder.
Ice Pilots NWT is compelling because the stakes are real. Real lives are at stake, in the sky and on the ground. There are no silly food challenges - in this world, you eat to live. People don't get voted off the island: They get the sack, or die.
Flying DC-3s across thousands of kilometres of ice and peat bog is serious business, and Ice Pilots NWT is seriously good TV.
10 p.m, History
THREE TO SEE:
? Someone's going to be voted off the island in Survivor: Philippines. After last week's merge, the game is afoot once more, but now it's a different game. One of the castaways is particularly candid in a contentious Tribal Council Wednesday night, but in this case, candour may come with a price.
8 p.m., Global, CBS
? Simon Cowell says The X Factor is a "better show" than The Voice. And you know what? He's wrong! The Voice picks up with its second Top 20 performance show of the week. And after last week's nonsense on The X Factor, it's obvious which of the two singing competitions is worth your time.
8 p.m., CTV2, NBC
? James Bond and creepy-crawly critters on the same show: What could possibly go wrong? Skyfall star Daniel Craig drops in on The Tonight With Jay Leno, followed by Sarnia, Ont., critter wrangler Dave Salmoni.
11: 35 p.m., CTV2, NBC
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