Monday 20 May 2019

TV dreams are made of this

the dark: nature's nighttime world (BBC2, sun) the simpsons (sky1, sun)

The last place you expect to find yourself in a BBC nature programme is in the middle of a horror movie called The House That Dripped Blood.

Poor Gordon Buchanan, cameraman on The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World, was only searching for the elusive, nocturnal giant anteater, which is quite harmless (unless you're an ant), when he stumbled across a disused cabin in the Patalan wetlands of Brazil.

"It really stinks in here," said Gordon. "Jesus! A really strong, animally smell." He gingerly pushed open a door to the source of the pong, slowly swung his flashlight upwards and found -- bats!

Vampire bats. Hundreds of them, huddled tightly together around the entire ceiling, dark eyes flashing and tiny, razor-sharp teeth bared. The smell coming off the television was pure human fear.

"That is a f***ing nightmare," declared Gordon, his scientific objectivity legging it out the door after his nerve. "That is GROSS!" The walls were streaked with the blood of mammals the bats had sucked and then defecated out. The sink and toilet were overflowing with it. "It's official," said Gordon, his soft Scottish accent gulping back the nausea. "I'm photographing the most disgusting toilet on the planet. I know they're just animals doing what they do, but it's disgusting. Get me out of here."

Over in Venezuela, the team's leader, the irrepressible Dr George McGavin, was having scares of his own as she shinned 110m down a sheer rockface to the mouth of a cave where the creatures inside -- and who knew what they would be? -- had developed over millions of years in total darkness.

"Everything in here is new," said George. New and a bit freaky. He found a harvestman, a spindly distant relation of the spider, but this one had no eyes. Sight is not a requirement in an inky black cave. Unless you're a scientist.

Among the creatures vying for supremacy in the three miles of underground river that flow through the cave were a tiny catfish and an extraordinary swimming cricket, which did a better breaststroke than Michael Phelps.

It's easy to become blasé about nature programmes, given the wondrous sights TV has revealed to us over the decades, but The Dark really lights up when the sun goes down and the super-sensitive nighttime cameras are turned on, transforming the landscape into a panoramic photographic negative teeming with life. Gordon eventually sniffed out his giant anteater, a bizarre yet oddly graceful creature that, contrary to received scientific wisdom, climbs trees to forage for food.

Meanwhile, in a flooded Amazon rainforest, his colleague Sophie Darlington captured images of owl monkeys, the world's only nocturnal primates, with eyes 50pc larger than other monkeys', leaping from tree to tree like playful white ghosts. The stuff of which dreams -- and if there are vampire bats involved, nightmares -- are made.

It wasn't difficult to see what last night's new episode of The Simpsons, 'The D'oh-Cial Network', was parodying, especially when Armie Hammer turned up voicing the Winklevoss twins (he played them in The Social Network), losing out in Olympic rowing to Marge's sisters, Selma and Patty.

Lisa develops a social network called Springface, which finally sends the town into meltdown. It's been a while since The Simpsons delivered a gold medal-standard performance, yet at least there were satisfying flashes of silver here.

Homer, obsessed with his new computer, the Mapple Void ("state of the art for the next two weeks"), marvels at how he can speed up a Sofia Coppola film x20 so "it seems like a normal movie". I also liked the moment when Hans Moleman, is hit by Homer's car and frantically hammers the "Dislike" button as he sails through the air.

The Simpsons may no longer be up to a comic marathon, but it can still manage the occasional sprint.

the dark: nature's nighttime world HHHHH the simpsons HHHII

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