Home / Culture and Society / Science and Technology / TV Review: Nova – “Lord of the Ants”

TV Review: Nova – “Lord of the Ants”

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

For a reason that this writer has yet to deduce, Nova seems to have gotten hyper-specific this season.  Broad issues, while present in some episodes, have taken a backseat to vaguely interesting minutiae.  Even when there is a broad issue to be discussed, the series has opted to focus on the smaller bits and not tackle the larger, quite possibly more interesting, story.

Such, sadly, is again the case with their latest episode, "Lord of the Ants."  The episode tells the story of E.O. Wilson, who has spent the vast majority of his life studying ants.  Wilson, we are told, knows more about ants than anyone else on the entire planet.  He seems like a good humored man, and takes an interest in his work with enthusiasm rarely seen in a 78 year-old. 

Early in the episode, for semi-comic effect, Wilson allows himself to get stung by fire ants just to prove that he knew what was going to happen.  It's a moment that's quite telling in the episode.  Watching Wilson get stung by the ants, and do so with as much of a smile as anyone getting stung can muster, one can't help but feel some enthusiasm for the wonder that are ants.  Yet, for all that, it's just an older gentlemen destroying the top of an ant colony and then placing his hand on it for little reason.  They are, after all, just ants.

"Lord of the Ants" is quick to point out that Wilson has spent a large portion of his life trying to draw larger conclusions from his study of ants.  He is, we are informed by the likes of David Attenborough, a naturalist who has always had the incredible ability to not just focus on the small bits and pieces, but to look at the world as a whole as well. 

Unfortunately, the episode itself spends far too little time on this world view.  It was, we are told, Wilson who first put forth the idea of "biological determinism" in human beings.  That is, the notion that our genetic code helps make us who we are in ways outside of our physical appearance.  The notion is terribly scary to some as it has, at times, been used to fuel the eugenics movement, but has since gained more traction.  It is, essentially, at least in part, the "nature vs. nurture" debate. 

It's a fascinating question, and one that certainly is applicable to everyone in the world.  However, the episode doesn't mention it until nearly the midpoint and even then spends too little time on it, instead choosing to talk about termites and a natural equilibrium in number and size of animal groupings.  It is possible that Wilson has spent more time studying these latter things which is why the episode spends more time on them, but it just isn't as gripping.

One of the best elements of this episode is the voiceover narrative, which is provided by none other than Harrison Ford.  The words may be nothing terribly special, but the way he does have a wonderful way of speaking them that helps draw the viewer in to an otherwise bland episode.  Additionally, the timing of the premiere of this episode makes one wonder if it was purposely schedule to coincide with Mr. Ford's huge theatrical film release later this week.

Nova – "Lord of the Ants" airs Tuesday, May 20 at 8pm ET/PT, but check your listings anyway because, heck, you can.

Powered by

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to the Advance family of websites and to Boston.com, which will allow even more readers to enjoy it.

  • Bennett

    Josh Lasser congratulating Josh Lasser…

    What a world.

  • bliffle

    I suppose Josh Lassers opinion of Josh Lassers opinion of a Nova program is important to Josh Lasser. But it would be nice if the review told us something more about the actual program. Oh well.

  • Toni Sutter

    After reading Lassers review of “Lord of the Ants” I knew more about what the episode wasn’t, than what it was. Shouldn’t a review, review the subject instead of recommend subject of a different matter?

    Lasser wrights:
    [“Lord of the Ants” is quick to point out that Wilson has spent a large portion of his life trying to draw larger conclusions from his study of ants.]

    Duh. That is what the episode was about. Nova is a show about SCIENCE.

    Lasser suggests the episode should have gone off on a tangent of SOCIAL STUDY regarding the eugenics movement and how scary this notion is to some.

    That is NOT what the episode was about.

    Lasser even suggests Harrison Ford was trying to earn money by working.

    Perhaps Lasser should have been quick to deduce, he has tuned into the wrong program.
    After reading Lassers review of “Lord of the Ants” I knew more about what it wasn’t, than what it was. Shouldn’t a review, review the subject instead of recommend subject of a different matter?

    Lasser wrights:
    [“Lord of the Ants” is quick to point out that Wilson has spent a large portion of his life trying to draw larger conclusions from his study of ants.]

    Duh. That is what the episode was about. Nova is a show about SCIENCE.

    Lasser suggests the episode should have gone off on a tangent of SOCIAL STUDY regarding the eugenics movement and how scary this notion is to some.

    That is NOT what the Nova episode was about.

    Lasser then suggests Harrison Ford was trying to earn money by working.

    Perhaps Lasser should have been quick to deduce, he has tuned into the wrong program.

  • bliffle

    Lasser seems to persistently miss the point of his function. NOVA is a modest non-commercial program of potential interest to a rather small group of people. It is NOT popular entertainment, such as, say, “CSI”. In the past, reviewers of popular culture developed a personal antidote for the drek they had to review to make their living by parodying and belittling the subject in their reviews. It works well for those reviewers because entertainment customers don’t read reviews, and the reviewers could thus attract another type of reader: a sort of reviewing elite.

    People read those belittling reviews because they were amusing. Alas, Lasser is not amusing.

  • Josh

    Toni,

    You quite clearly miss the point, Nova points out that Wilson has spent a large portion of his life trying to draw larger conclusions from his study of ants, but fails to talk about that in depth.

    Additionally, there is no suggestion that Ford was trying to earn money by working. The question was whether Nova timed the episode to air the same week as the new Indiana Jones movie (and I think they unquestionably did).

  • Juju

    I found the Nova episode “Lord of the Ants” to be both informative and entertaining. I was offended by Lasser’s ageists comments.

  • bliffle

    I saw part of it and it actually looked pretty good. I’ll catch the whole thing when it comes around again on the Great PBS Wheel Of TV.

  • Harrison Ford is a board member for the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

  • shaun

    “…instead choosing to talk about termites and a natural equilibrium in number and size of animal groupings.”

    That’s what biological determinism is :/

  • n

    Till, when they come to the valley of the ants, one of the ants said” O, ants enter your dwellings, lest Suleiman and his hosts crush you, while they perceive not.( suret al-naml 18 – ants)

    “In this verse, there is a clear evidence that ants have a language to understand one another and Allah gifted Suleiman with the ability to hear and understand these sounds. The scientists attempt to grasp these acoustic signals that ants utter. Yet, they distinguished four different kinds of these sounds after very long years of watching.”

    This is from 14 centuries. From the glorious Qura’an. It should be time for those who have doubts about Mohammad to question themselves…

    Ants talk here:
    http://home.olemiss.edu/~hickling/

    For more readings:
    http://www.55a.net/firas/english/?page=mix&select_page=who

    Enjoy your reading and listenning 🙂
    __________

    who is Dr. Maurice Bucaille..?where is her from; and what did he say about………