News & Opinion

TV review

The Weather Channel’s epic election ‘escape’ might really stress you out

The Daily Beast

November 8, 2016

Three hours into the nine-hour epic of the Weather Channel’s Escape From The Election, and there was still no mention of Hillary C or Donald T, or their electoral confrontation which ended up, as inevitably it would for two wealthy New Yorkers, in a midtown Manhattan pissing contest over who’d throw the biggest party in town.

On the nine-hour long Escape From The Election—running on Tuesday from 3 p.m. to midnight—there was no punditry, no data trackers. Instead, this is how the Weather Channel sold their alternative, “Clouds, rainbows, autumn splendor and smooth jazz evoke tranquility.”

As it began, so it continued: clouds scudding across skies above the Rocky Mountains, fir trees huge, reaching toward the blue skies, the chirruping of birds on the boughs of branches, the odd squawk of an animal, and a rustling, bustling plenitude of reds and greens of leaves of trees and earth and sea and a lot of plinky-plonky piano playing and guitar twanging. The viewer was soon rendered soporific.

Even before Escape From The Election, the Weather Channel wanted to be Election Day’s Christmas yule log: the place to go to bite nails and sit out the drama of Tuesday night as if Election 2016 was not happening.

If the thought of Trump’s surrogates, and Clintonites, and the race to 270 brought you out in a rash, the idea was to turn to the Weather Channel, and watch the gentle lapping of water on a lake, or a wolf wondering where it should go off and do something wolf-like next.

The Weather Channel wasn’t being willfully detached from Election Day. In the noon to 3 p.m. slot, the two anchors kicked off the top of the last hour with a topical, “We’re a nation divided by weather this Election Day.” Which is, on what was a comparatively quiet weather day, as hammy and over-reaching as anything you would hear on Fox News.

We learned that rain may slow the commute to a crawl in Texas. There might also be rain in the Lower Mississippi Valley, the southern parts of Alabama, and the western parts of the Florida Panhandle.

This non-rain was difficult to get very excited about, and so we moved swiftly to the news that Minneapolis had just endured a record 208 days without a frost; and that 230 million people in America were dealing with higher than average temperatures: It was currently 62 degrees in Chicago, 57 in Minneapolis, and 61 in Des Moines.

A picture flashed up of a sunny Boston. “If you can find a cloud, let me know. I can’t find one,” said the Weather Channel anchor. That must be the worst if you have time to fill on Weather Channel: no clouds, and you have to wax as lyrically but accurately about blank, unthreatening sky.

And suddenly, it was 3 p.m. Time for Escape. The elevator music began immediately: soothing only if you maybe had had an Ambien first. The strange thing about elevator music is that it is familiar and alien. You know it and don’t, and it is aggravating.

One of the musical riffs accompanying leaves floating on water turned out to be tear-inducingly close to the music that accompanied Tom Hanks’s character when he was returned to his child size at the end of Big.

Another, as the camera panned over trees of different autumnal colors (4 minutes in) was straight from the will-they-won’t-they-reunite school of soap opera coupledom.

When the first ad break came, about nine minutes in, it was a shock: The ad breaks were signaled by a rush of water and bird sounds—and the sound of what seemed to be paper ripping. Together, they were like a scratchy alarm clock.

But these breaks also meant Weather Channel neophytes were exposed to the station’s adverts for prostate care treatments, and uniquely styled stings: “Chill out and enjoy the atmosphere,” they are “cirrus” about the weather, and the rest. It turned out the Weather Channel was not on a total news break for nine hours: The weather headlines—those above-average temperatures, plus the forecast for U.S. cities—flashed up every eight minutes.

Back into the woods we went for a sweeping camera zoom over a lake. And then more leaves, which seemed like the leaves of before, which would mean more ducks, and trees, and more achingly open blue sky.

There was no storyline to hook you into Escape From The Election—a baby deer reunited with its mother, for example—but just sometimes short, and sometimes long-held shots of nature in all its glory, and the damn elevator music, which wasn’t soothing because it was sad, mostly, and doomful. Which just reminded you of the election you weren’t watching.

At its most relentless but non-climactic, it sounded like the music Melrose Place would confer on Alison when she’d had too much to drink and came home, and, well nothing happened—but things were pretty bad and she agonized about them. Here, the unintentionally menacing chords of the Weather Channel came with horses munching grass (1 hour, 37 minutes in).

At 4:30 p.m. there was a dramatic change in this wordless landscape-fest: We left the mountains for a tropical beach, and then, away from the forests, we suddenly had open landscape, and then, instead of sunshine, it was snow and winter.

That, in the schema of the program, was a dramatic tonal shift, a cliffhanger even. And then, just as suddenly, the piano and guitar was gone, and it was pan pipes—and the pan pipes went on for an ear-assaulting eternity as animals suddenly appeared: birds and deer, and all other lucky life forms not aware of the vicissitudes of the electoral college and Wolf and Anderson and Megyn and Lester.

However venerable its intention, Escape From The Election began, as 7 p.m. approached, to be a bust: its elevator music was too anxiety-inducing, and there is—small, furry animals or majestic trees or not—no running from this election or its implications.

You may have been initially charmed by the mountains and rock-faces, and bubbling waterfalls and wavy grasses, and snow and lush greens and crisp, red leaves and glassy, still water of lakes. What a brilliant idea Weather Channel, thank you, flying in the face of the day’s political drama and gathering terrors.

Then you may have thought, looking at those sane snow-capped peaks and glistening lakes: OK, enough. Escape is futile. We have to live out our nervousness tonight. Bye bye wolf, bye bye birdies, bye bye mountains and plinky-plonky music. Click, zap, hello CNN.