Earth: The Biography



Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 10-11 p.m. Tuesday, July 13-15, National Geographic

Considering recent headlines about melting ice caps, dwindling rain forests and disappearing species, it is refreshing to find a natural science series that takes a Zen approach to global warming.

Yes, says "Earth: The Biography," it is entirely possible for people to pollute and poison themselves to point of extinction but, even if they do, the planet will still be around. After a few thousand years, forests will grow back and after a million years, give or take, the atmosphere will be pristine again. And just maybe there will be new and different complex life forms to roam the planet, just as past catastrophes brought about the creatures we are today.

It's a positively serene approach to the history of our planet but perfectly logical and all of it scientifically verifiable. Bear in mind, Earth has been around 4.5 billion years. Given the staying power of our sun, the planet is barely entering middle age.

The host for this five-part series is Iain Stewart, a geologist whose Scottish brogue reminds you of "Late Late Show's" Craig Ferguson, at least for a while. At the outset, Stewart prepares viewers for a unique perspective. We're going to see how the Earth was formed and how its features--volcanoes, ice, atmosphere and oceans--act together to create and maintain a galactic sweet spot just right for complex life forms. (Needless to say, this is not a safe harbor for literal believers in the Book of Genesis or any children they may be home schooling.)

Stewart's passion for explaining how it all works is practically contagious. On top of that, the series is incredibly well-organized and easy to follow. Mix in some breathtaking high def photography and it is no stretch to call this appointment television.

The show, a BBC production, was filmed on all seven continents and whittled down from 250 hours of footage. It make excellent use of time lapse photography and terrific computer graphics. When it concludes (don't miss the fifth and final episode), it is bound to leave you with a new understanding of Earth but also of life, both its possibilities and its limitations.

Executive producer: Phil Dolling; Series producer: Jonathan Renout; Producer/director: Paul Oldeng; Editors: Louise Selkow, Lee Sutton; Researcher: Elizabeth Vancura; Composer: Ty Unwin; Host: Iain Stewart