YouTube’s mild kingdom

Battle at Kruger (National Geographic Channel, originally aired Sunday May 11 at 9 pm)

The majority of television, like the majority of everything else, is crap. It’s commercialized. It panders. It candy-coats. For the longest time, though, one kind of TV managed to be exciting as hell without resorting to trickery: The pure drama of nature shows. A crocodile snatches a gazelle in mid-air while some unflappable British gent narrates the death throes.

Alas, these programs, too, eventually began to pander about the time the cable networks dedicated to them replaced the British dudes with Americans who moonlight doing agitated film voice-overs. “In a world where the mighty cheetah’s only goal is to kill, kill, KILL, there’s nothing for a band of plucky marmosets to do but … fight … fire … with … FIRE,” or some similar dingbattery.

The genre found a new bottom — well below the already low old bottom — with Battle at Kruger, which takes the coolest amateur-shot nature video of all time and turns it into a dithering commentary on the YouTube phenomenon. On safari in South Africa’s Kruger Park, a Texan retiree filmed lions attacking a Cape Buffalo herd and separating out a calf. A crocodile attacked the calf, then tug-of-warred the lions for possession of it. Finally, the Cape Buffalo circled the wagons, returned and got into an old-fashioned standoff with the pride, goring the hell out of a couple lions and running them off. Miraculously, the calf stands. Alive.

The video itself is eight minutes. Even small and hopelessly grainy on YouTube, it’s just about the most riveting thing I’ve ever seen. Given the National Geographic treatment — in which they spend 15 minutes showcasing YouTube comments — the life is sucked out, the drama’s flayed, and the voice-over guy just gets things wrong. Wanting to spell out the drama for us at one point, the voice guy exclaims, “The victorious lions crowd the calf, ready to dispatch their prey.” Seconds later, safari guide Frank Watts remarks he was surprised the lions didn’t appear to be trying to kill the calf at all. Der …

In the same mad scrap for viewers that made firing the British guys seem like a good idea, TV “documentarians” have lost track of what makes a riveting story. Here they elevated YouTube as a phenomenon over lion vs. crocodile vs. Cape Buffalo, and the world is impoverished for it. •

See Also
The middle of the season lost my attention, but already knowing which castaways survive makes me want to know how they did it. (ABC, Thursday 5/29, 9 pm)

Battlestar Galactica Show’s going on hiatus, so we’re getting a half-season finale. We still don’t know where Earth is or who the last secret Cylon is. We might find out the latter now. We’ll probably have to wait for earth until, like, 2009. (Sci-Fi, returns Friday 5/30, 10 pm; half-finale: 6/13, 9 pm)

Venture Brothers Bearing the same indelible mark he left on The Tick, Jackson Publick’s bitterly funny, oddly tragic Hardy Boys-Johnny Quest-superhero satire returns for a third season. (Adult Swim, Sunday, 10:30 pm)

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