Planet Earth II opens with British narrator David Attenborough (whose brother was tragically killed by dinosaurs in the late 1990s*), riding in a hot air balloon and telling us that since the original Planet Earth first aired ten years ago (yes, yes, we all feel very old), improvements in technology have made it possible to document earth’s many incredible ecosystems and animals in far greater detail than ever before.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the best news I’ve heard in months. I mean, just the thought of losing myself for an hour in the wonders of the natural world (without having to leave my house, thankfully) is a tonic for my soul during these troubled times. There are a lot of rehashes, sequels, reboots, and remakes out there, and we could do without 95% of them, but I’ll take a new Planet Earth every few years till I drop dead.
I believed all that to be true before I even watched the first episode of this new iteration, and I believe it even more now that I’ve watched the first episode, Islands. Spoiler Alert: islands are freakin’ awesome, and PE II makes absolutely sure that its round two debut reminds us what was so amazing about the series in the first place.
- There are a lot of penguins in this episode, and since penguins are without question the best animals on planet earth (I will absolutely fight you if you say different; get out of here with your lions and sharks and whatever other mainstream animals you think are so great), this one had crowd-pleaser written all over it, and there’s no reason to suspect that other episodes won’t follow suit.
- That scene that they posted a few months ago of the baby iguana running from that Evil of snakes (I don’t know what the technical name is for a group of snakes, but it should definitely be an Evil) is from this episode, and it is so much better and more tense than that preview indicates. Which is saying something, since that original clip made me yell like I was watching an old And-1 mixtape. By the end, I had ripped off my shirt and sprinted, screaming, right out of the room.
- Speaking of yelling: I actually shouted at my television several times over the course of the show’s hour runtime, which is impressive, since I probably haven’t actually shouted in surprise/horror/disbelief at a scripted drama in years. I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I’d say its a pretty revealing metric for just how incredible some of the stuff on Planet Earth II really is. It’s like, the Potential for Shock and Amazement Rankings go (1) sports, (2) Planet Earth, and (3) all other forms of televised entertainment.
- When Planet Earth debuted, it was essentially its own argument for owning an HDTV (which were still fairly rare at the time). In the same way, Planet Earth II is its own argument for upgrading to 4K (actually, now that I think about it, the Potential for Shock and Amazement rankings are the same as the Reasons to Get a 4K TV and TV Provider rankings). I have 20/20 vision and I can promise you that the real world does not look as good as PE II does in 4K. My eyes are sad when they have to look at anything that isn’t PE II in 4K. My computer screen is making me sad.
- David Attenborough is the only narrator who gives Morgan Freeman a run for his money. In fact, Freeman’s ubiquity (he’s even the spokesman for Turkish Airlines now) has diluted some of the joy I once experienced when I heard his dulcet tones. Attenborough doesn’t just speak English, he performs it. He takes the wonder, suspense, and comedy in every scene and amplifies it without ever stepping on the awesomeness of the footage. Also, he pronounces sloth with a long ‘o’ so that it comes out ‘slow-th. I don’t know if that’s just a British thing or if David Attenborough is entertaining himself by coming up with new, more appropriate names for animals on the fly. Either way, I’m rolling with slow-th from now on.
We both know that there are more than five reasons to watch Planet Earth II. In fact, the biggest reason is one I didn’t even mention: being a responsible citizen is exhausting right now, and Planet Earth II is the perfect way to recharge the ol’ mental batteries before diving in for another round of “Which Fictional Terrorist Attack Will The President Cite Today?”
That’s not to say Planet Earth II isn’t without reminders that the world is dark and full of terrors (anybody who saw the Great White Shark scene from the first series knows that even the cutest animals can meet a grisly fate), but at least animals can’t be faulted for their unsettling, devious, bloodthirsty behavior.
These days, we’ve got to take an honest approach wherever we can find it.
*In the book. In the movies, they made his brother out to be a much nicer dude than he was in real life. Still, a bummer that he was devoured by tiny dinosaurs.