Inspired by a new season of BBCs Blue Planet, and the introduction of a bad head cold, I decided to watch some shows that were a little out of the ordinary for me on Netflix. Normally, I watch Scifi and Fantasy movies, or reruns of old favorite shows, along with some of Marvels output. I actually enjoyed sort of looking at these while knitting or reading. They’re not plot intensive and are definitely the kind of stuff you watch if you have the flu and can’t concentrate, want something to feel good about for a couple of hours, or something not too loud, to help you fall asleep at night.
This is a show about Heathrow Airport’s animal department, where they ship all kinds of animals to different parts of the world, and people ship their animals to England. Hundreds of animals, a day, pass through the airport and the staff is responsible for checking that they’re all healthy and have the proper paperwork. Its a fascinating show, although you sort of have to wait for the facts to come in, so it’s not a documentary.
Since the UK is an island, they have to care very deeply if any animals that come into the country are carrying any diseases that can be passed on to humans or other animals, like rabies, so close attention is paid to people bringing various pets into the country, especially dogs and cats.
But the department, which is also nicknamed The Ark, also gets lots of other really weird shipments for and from zoos, and pet stores, like giant tortoises, llamas, snakes, and once, a shipment of butterfly cocoons that needed fast shipment, before they hatched. The show chronicles the day to day decision making processes of the staff, as they look for any animal smuggling evidence.
The show really isn’t about the staff. The various animals are the highlight in this show. One of my favorite episodes involved a giant snapping tortoise that refused to eat, and in another episode the staff has to let its resident company of ring-tailed lemurs go to a zoo. They’d been stuck at The Ark for two years because of a paperwork snafu. In one of the earliest episodes, a kindly old man tries to smuggle two tiny turtles, in his coat pockets. His reaction, when he got caught, was rather explosive.
Sometimes people try to sneak their dogs and cats in, or just don’t know they’re supposed to declare them, and there can be some tears and yelling when they find out their pet might be confiscated, but usually the situations are peacefully resolved.
This is a great show to watch if you love animals but are too sick to muster up enough concentration to watch a nature documentary.
The Great British Baking Show
I love cooking shows, especially baking shows, but I hate the competitive and quite frankly, dumb atmosphere, of the American versions of these shows. Americans talk too much in those shows, and when they do say stuff, its generally self serving bullshit, or nasty shit against their opponents, and I’m never in a mood to hear that.
But I like the British shows.The competitors are humble, hard working and supportive of each other, and its a real joy to watch them work on the various recipes. You get really caught up in their emotions through the season as you get to know each one of them. They are kind, and beautifully supportive of each other, celebrating each other’s wins, and commiserating with each other’s losses, and admiring each other’s skills. The emotional dynamic on these shows is completely different. The hosts aren’t screaming insults and tend to be supportive themselves. But the biggest difference between the American and British shows, is that the Americans are competing against each other, whereas the British contestants are competing against their individual selves, and their personal insecurities.
This show has two hosts and two judges. The hosts are Mel Giedrouyc, and Sue Perkins, who work great together, and are actually pretty funny, but never at the expense of the contestants. The two judges are Mary Berry, and Paul Hollywood. Mr. Hollywood has dreamy blue eyes, and he and Mary are both consummate professionals, who find at least one nice thing to say about every bake they judge, no matter how awful the contestant thinks it is.
Each episode consist of three tests, and is entirely about baking deserts and pastries, with the occasional savory dish. The first is usually something of the contestants own design, and something they’ve been practicing for years. The second test is Technical and it’s usually something the contestants have never heard of before, and the last is a kind of proficiency test, that includes all the skills they’ve learned over the course of the show, that day ,or that week. They’re allowed to be as imaginative as they want and its a lot of fun to see them all reproduce the same recipe, but with significantly different results.
This is a great show to watch, if, like me, you love pastries.
Tales By Light
This is a documentary series of interviews with nature photographers that discusses how they got particular shots, and what urges led them to becoming photographers. If you love nature shows, and possess enough brain power to watch a documentary, than this is the show for you. There’s a lot of talking, but you can safely ignore it, and just watch the beautiful animals, scenery and cultures.
What is always amazing to me is the amount of cooperation the photographers get from the people they film. I always wonder if the tribal people they’re filming, understand that people from around the world (other tribes, really) will be looking at their photos.
There are six episodes about places like The Himalayas, various tribal groups (my personal favorite), ocean photography, and various mountains and volcanoes.
Somebody Feed Phil
More than people cooking food, I like to watch people eat food. Especially if its food I’m never likely to eat.
I have never heard of Phil, but I feel comfortable saying I think I’m probably in love with him. He is such a sweet character. He’s always so positive and happy. If you need to feel good for a couple of hours than you can watch a couple of episodes of Phil visiting parts of Asia, Israel, and other places, eating the food, and striking up conversations with random people. This is not a deep show, and can be easily watched when you have little brain power to spare for a plot. Its mostly just Phil talking about the food, and eating the food, and interacting with some friends.
In the first episode, Phil Rosenthal, the creator of the show Everybody Loves Raymond, visits Bangkok, and tries some durian fruit. Apparently he’s okay with that, and says it tastes pretty good. He also visits Tel Aviv, and since he’s Jewish, he has a grand old time exploring the food and culture, and having conversations with random strangers about what it’s like to be Jewish in Israel. Phil isn’t a foodie, so there’s none of the snootiness, or pretentiousness, that you get with other travel food hosts like Bourdain. I like Bourdain, but he tries too hard to seem cool and detached. Zimmern can come across a little too folksy sometimes. Phil on the other hand has no chill at all. He has all the enthusiasm of a child, which is kind of refreshing.
My favorite part of all the episodes though, are the endings, when Phil Skypes with his elderly parents about his adventures. I love their relationship with their son, who they don’t always understand, and they also think they’re pretty funny, so of course they are. And he just talks to them about the food he ate during his visit, and people he saw, and they sometimes give commentary. It’s a really lovely touch to add these scenes of bonding. Most of the time you get the impression that people on TV shows don’t have families at all, and you almost never see them interact.
Phil also visits Lisbon Spain, and parts of Mexico in subsequent episodes. Phil’s regular facial expression is one of pleased surprise, and for some reason I find that deeply funny.