It’s a challenge writing about the different episodes of Life, the natural history co-production from Discovery Channel and BBC. How many different ways are there to say beautiful? Each week viewers are treated to a different family of animals, and the emphasis is very much on “family.”
Life has so far shown us reptiles and amphibians, fish, and mammals; every episode has stressed the parenting different species display, as well as intricate mating rituals and patterns of relationships (monogamous or otherwise).
Going back into the history of television, there was a time (a long time ago, it seems) when it became okay to show animals mating. Well, people had been watching it for years on the farm and at the zoo, so what? But back in the day, every documentary about animals had to include animal pairings. We’re talking about a simple act in the chain of reproduction, but it was de rigueur. After a while, watching animals mate becomes tiresome, and not long after that it becomes boring—not worth flipping on the telly. Did we really need to see every species of bug getting it on? Horses? Elephants? Wildebeests? (I’m not sure about the wildebeests, but most animals—if they were not extinct—were shown procreating). Life omits this emphasis; animals that are shown mating are shown briefly (I guess because that’s what mating is like).
On Sunday, April 4, “Birds” will premiere. This episode of Life brings a variety of birds to the viewer, and allows us to appreciate their splendor and diversity. When you think of birds flying, do you think of wings flapping? “Birds” reminds us that they also hover, glide, and soar, and that some birds don’t fly at all (but some can swim).
Narrator Oprah Winfrey shares insights into how birds evolved from dinosaurs with their scales becoming feathers, teeth becoming beaks, and front legs replaced by wings that resulted in flight. She also introduces us to a bone-eating bird with digestive juices more corrosive than battery acid; a poaching pirate, the frigate bird, who steals fish from diving tropic birds; and birds that migrate from Argentina to Canada, flying up to 600 miles a day.
One of the things the average viewer will learn from Life is that we don’t know much about life. We know that there are more species than we’ll ever see and that our planet supports an incredible variety of animals. We are amazed when we witness how complex their behaviors are and how much we have in common with them. It’s with wonder we consider how a certain bird knows when to leave an area in order to arrive in time for dinner thousands of miles away.
Two of my favorites featured in “Birds” were flamingos (of course, I live on Flamingo Farm) that build their nests in an area where the air temperature reaches 150 degrees and their lake contains corrosive alkaline water, and penguins that can issue a sound that only their family members can hear. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say what’s on your mind without anyone overhearing?
If you have not been watching Life, you’ve been missing some of the best that television has to offer. Forget the reality shows, Life is real.