Travel shows have been done and done again, and it’s hard to find one that breaks new ground. The most important element is usually not the scenery but the host, and BBC America found a great one in the British actor Dominic Monaghan (Lost), who tells viewers in the first moments of the series about his life-long passion for anything that might scuttle out from under a large rock. Monaghan couples boyish charm and unbridled enthusiasm in leading us on a tag-a-long journey as he goes to Vietnam, Ecuador, Namibia and more, where some of the most harrowing insects, snakes and arachnids exist.
Monaghan isn’t just enthusiastic about the idea of, say, handling a giant python in the wild — he actually goes after it. Without pause, he will scale suddenly and quickly up a tree to let the enormous snake glide over him as he gushes about its beauty. In each episode, Monaghan has a mission to find some terrible creature (in the first two episodes he’s after a Giant Water Bug in Vietnam, followed by a frighteningly large Huntsman Spider in Laos), but he also speaks impressively, and extemporaneously, about other creatures (particularly snakes and insects) found along the way.
For those squeamish about things such as snakes, spiders, scorpions, and leeches, the show many not be for you. The series is stylishly filmed with an energetic pace to its editing and movements, but it occasionally lingers, like Monaghan, in inspecting leech bites or the forked tongues of giant lizards. Snakes are a constant companion, and Monaghan handles them expertly, directing cameraman Frank where to stand both for Frank’s safety and to get the best shot as he wrangles them. He even appears to put himself in some real danger, with snakes lunging at him and deadly spiders crawling across his hands. But throughout his encounters with these natural wonders (or terrors, depending), he remains respectful. He acknowledges that this is their habitat and says he “doesn’t wish to stress them out,” he just wants to get a glimpse and thank them for their time.
In addition to hunting for spiders and giant bugs, Monaghan also interacts with the locals, who seem mostly bemused by his energy and positivity. He presents himself as the ideal travel companion for the adventurous — he will eat anything, hop into uncertain waters, grab spiders and more, and do so all with a huge smile. He is 180-degrees different from his fellow Brit (and Manchester United supporter, a team never far from Monaghan’s mention) Karl Pilkington, whose Science Channel travel series An Idiot Abroad sends him to similar places as Monaghan, but features him complaining and avoiding as much of the local color as he can. While Karl could not be further from his comfort zone (which plays for both laughs and empathy), Monaghan relishes the foreign surroundings, and engages with every aspect he is able to.
Monaghan may be in his mid-30s now, but you would swear he was your affable world-traveler friend from college, sending updates of himself eating goat testicles with a thumbs-up from Ho Chi Minh City. He may not be as staid as Britain’s most formidable nature host David Attenborough, but he goes in pursuit of his marks with sincere gusto, saying of his own struggles in doing so, “pain is temporary. Film is permanent.”
Even those who, in real life, adhere to the maxim “always stay in the boat” can’t disagree with Monaghan that when it comes to his series, even though you may not want to be there personally (or maybe you do), “it’s a wild experience to say the least.” It’s also a lot of fun.