Last Night's Viewing - The Polar Bear Family and Me, BBC2; The Truth About Magaluf: Stacey Dooley Investigates, BBC3
"It's a bit of a waiting game," said a polar bear expert in The Polar Bear Family and Me, as he and Gordon Buchanan hunkered down to wait for their subject to do something filmable. But it isn't if you're watching the final film. You don't have to wait for anything, these days, as the opening sequence from last night's episode demonstrated, immediately laying out a bullet-point preview of every moment of wonder and awe that was to follow.
This is the prevailing mode in television right now and it's a kind of self-inflicted vandalism. So desperate are directors (or more usually commissioning editors) that we should watch their programme that they eagerly rush to spoil it, destroying any possibility of narrative tension or slow reveal. There is no real "journey" (the buzzword of the moment) because you invariably begin with the destination.
So, last night, right off the bat, we got the money shots of Buchanan stroking a pair of polar bear cubs as they clung to their tranquillized mother and footage from the remarkable sequence in which he sat inside a Perspex cube as a full-grown bear tried to open it and eat him. And then we sat around until we could watch them again, but this time in context. It's a bit like a striptease that begins with the dancer dropping everything, then getting dressed again and doing it slowly. Which is not to say that there's nothing to watch in the interim. Buchanan, who made a wonderful trilogy of films about his relationship with a single family of black bears in Minnesota, is essentially repeating the process, but this time with a species that would be perfectly happy to include a wildlife cameraman on its menu.
The Ice Cube was one of the solutions he'd come up with – a worryingly home-made looking safety cage that he set down near a seal hole in the hope that it would give him unprecedented access to a bear's hunting technique. It half worked, I suppose, since the first bear that turned up decided that the novelty meat in the puzzle packaging was a far more enticing prospect. Seal? So been there. But this thing smells really good, if I could only just get the box open. As the bear prodded and poked at the weak points of the structure, Buchanan kept up a running commentary on its efforts, which got more breathless and high-pitched with every passing second. "Is that giving a little?" he croaked as a paw the size of an excavator's bucket rattled against the Plexiglass. Wonderful, but how much more so if they'd only hinted at what was coming.
Stacey Dooley offered "a story we've never seen before" at the beginning of The Truth About Magaluf. You need to stay in a bit more, Stacey, if you really believe that. The seamy underbelly of British holiday resorts has been repeatedly covered, in virtually every television format available, apart from the phone-vote talent contest. There really can't be many people out there who fondly believe that British youngsters head to Magaluf for bridge evenings and a little fino sherry before bed. Still, Stacey is a winningly sweet presence on screen and the horrors of this particular outpost of British culture can't really be overstated.
Dooley looked at the Magaluf holiday from the service-industries end, working alongside the chambermaids who have to wipe semen off bedroom walls and fish the furniture out of the swimming pool and the paramedics who struggle nightly to prevent Darwinian selection from taking its course. She also talked to the Mayor of Magaluf, who indolently shrugged off any suggestion that the local authorities might in any way curb the undignified bacchanal. I did mean to look as well at What Happens in Kavos, Channel 4's treatment of the same subject, but I felt sick after one and decided I'd reached my limit.
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