Across seven episodes of Blue Planet II, viewers are treated to a number of wondrous images. Orcas stun schools of herring by slapping them with their tails. Cuttlefish mesmerize shrimp by splaying out their arms and sending moving clouds of pigment across their skin, like a living gif. Mobula rays cavort in the deep, stirring glow plankton as they move, creating an ethereal scene that looks like a clip from Moana. Cutthroat eels slink into a lake of super-salty water at the bottom of the ocean, and some tie themselves into knots in the throes of toxic shock. Pods of bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales meet in the open ocean, greeting each other as if reuniting with old friends.
The series first aired in the United Kingdom last year and finally premieres in the United States this Saturday on BBC America. It is the latest program from the BBC’s indefatigable Natural History Unit—arguably the greatest producers of such documentaries in the world.
I remember exactly when and where I first came across their work—a VHS copy of Life on Earth, bought from the gift shop of London’s Natural History Museum at the age of 8. In the intervening decades, I have devoured almost every show that the NHU has cared to make. I celebrated David Attenborough’s recent 90th birthday by binge-watching all 79 episodes of his Life Collection for the umpteenth time, and ranking them all. I offer these tidbits, these credentials, to properly frame the following claim: