Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Magic

Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Magic

Article excerpt

Since writing that depressing column about how deeply miserable I was I have had so much sympathy that I almost feel happy again. Also I have been watching a lot more TV, which must be a good sign.

I'll start with Predators (BBC 1, Thursday) because I hardly ever write about animal documentary series because they're usually so achingly predictable. Most of them divide roughly into two categories: Seen It All Before (migrating wildebeest, aren't baby polar bears tiny? etc.) and Terrors Of The Animal Kingdom! (gut-churning close-ups, jazzy special effects, thumping soundtrack and tabloid voiceover desperate to convince you that you haven't Seen It All Before).

On first glance, Predators seemed worryingly to combine the worst of both genres: hackneyed sequences like `cheetah kills gazelle' and `great white shark chomps seal' spiced with groovy club music, computergenerated imagery and an hysterical John Hannah talking it all up with comments on the lines of `This terrifying and incredibly interesting animal is deadlier than a squadron of Tornadoes armed with sidewinder missiles, napalm and ten megaton neutron bombs. Yet it's the size of a very small pea.'

But behind all this ratings-grabbing superficiality lurks a series of rare quality and integrity. Not only is the documentary footage as dramatic as any I've ever seen but - and here it differs from tosh like Walking With Dinosaurs - the accompanying special effects have a valid educational purpose.

When, for example, it shows you a bird'seye view from a hunting eagle, it doesn't just make you go, `Whooh. This is like tripping on acid, man!' It actually conveys, as never before, the truly stupendous rapidity of an eagle's brain processes as it locks onto a heather-camouflaged hare, dives down and kills it in the space of seconds. Predators may not be the first series to try to make you wonder anew at the ingenuity of nature, but it's certainly one of the very few from the last decade that succeeds.

Coupling (BBC 2, Friday) - there's another series I suppose I ought to review, largely because it's being talked of both as a worthy successor to This Life and as a UK version of Friends. To judge by the first episode, though, it's neither. Set in a glib, unconvincing sitcom world of half-baked smart-arsery, it completely lacks the sleazy authenticity of the former. And about the only thing it has in common with the latter is that the characters are all intensely irritating. …

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