TV COLUMN: Planet Earth II, Last Leg: US Election Special, John Lewis Christmas advert

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.
James Waller-DaviesJames Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Mesmerising audiences with the same trick again and again is a good trick indeed. David Attenborough and his documentary team have been doing it for decades and the latest natural world blockbuster documentary, Planet Earth II (BBC1), has done it yet again.

The production and photography is as stunning as anything multi-million dollar global superhero franchises can CGI-conjure in creating fantasy worlds – and yet this is the real world. Our world.

The photography takes the real to the realms of hyper-reality, immersing audiences into the visceral ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ of the living natural world.

Add in Attenborough’s voiceover, which tends to empathy but never anthropromorphisation, and what you get is another masterpiece of documentary television making.

In an opening programme that was all highlights, picking out a few cherries from the cake is to pick through a cake make only of cherries. But who will forget the little Pigmy three-toed sloth, slowing making his way to a date, climbing through trees and swimming though lagoons.

For those of us blokes who think having a shave and finding a clean shirt is a big date deal, you ain’t got nothing on Mr Pigmy three-toed. And what does he get at the end of it all? Nothing. He’d quite literally climbed and barked up the wrong tree and got the wrong date.

The award to the most perilous beach crossing has to go to the baby marine iguana and its beach blitz against gangs of aptly named racer snakes on its tail. It was a deadly game of British Bulldog, with little iguanas running the fanged gauntlet.

Attenborough is 90 now and there can’t be many more opportunities for him to add to one of the most extraordinary canons in any form of cultural history ever made. If the Nobel Prize can be extended to Bob Dylan, it can surely be extended to Attenborough. His work is this significant. If you watch nothing else this weekend, watch Planet Earth II.

If strange things happen nature, then it’s nothing compared to what can happen in US presidential elections. The Last Leg: US Election Special (Channel 4) was all geared up, along with the rest of the world’s media, to celebrate a Clinton victory, but got Donald Trump instead.

In America, Newsweek magazine had to recall and pulp 125,000 copies of its souvenir ‘Madam President’ Clinton special. The Last Leg had a group of bemused guests all with the wrong script.

A classic example of events overtaking production. Adam Hills managed to hold it all together, just. But really it was just a rehash of all the tired Trumpington gags he’d been telling through the campaign. Just as with Brexit, the tables were turned again. Democracy, it would appear, is now about the people letting the media in on what is going on, rather than the other way around.

The Christmas starting gun has been fired. The annual John Lewis Christmas advert is here again, with Buster the dog and his new trampoline.

There’s becoming a pattern to the psychology of the John Lewis Christmas offering. They are built on loneliness: the boy and his penguin, the man in the moon, and now Buster without a bounce. They’ve become a pretty cynical psychological tug on the Christmas heartstrings. Feeling lonely this Christmas? Don’t worry, splash your cash at JL and you won’t be alone.

I’d like to see the David Attenborough version of this year’s advert. The one where dad swears ‘damn, blast and sod it’ having trapped his cold hands in the trampoline bars and leaves a tangled pile of poles and netting in the mud-sodden garden. The one where the badger would eat its natural prey the hedgehog and foxes would have snacked on the squirrels. That’s the real world.