by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Battle at Kruger & r & & r & (National Geographic Channel, originally aired Sunday, May 11 at 9pm) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he majority of television, like the majority of everything else, is crap. It's commercialized. It panders. It candy-coats. For the longest time, though, one kind of TV managed to be exciting as hell without resorting to trickery: The pure drama of nature shows. A crocodile snatches a gazelle in mid-air while some unflappable British gent narrated the death throes.

These programs too, though, began to pander about the time the cable networks dedicated to them replaced the British dudes with Americans who moonlight doing agitated film voiceovers. "In a world where the mighty cheetah's only goal is to kill, kill, KILL, there's nothing for a band of plucky marmosets to do but ... fight ... fire ... with ... FIRE!" Or else some similar crap.

The genre found a new bottom -- well below the already low old bottom -- with Battle at Kruger, which takes the coolest amateur-shot nature video of all time and turns it into a dithering commentary on the YouTube phenomenon. On safari in South Africa's Kruger Park, a Texas retiree filmed lions attacking a Cape Buffalo herd, separating out a calf. A crocodile attacks the calf, then plays tug-of-war with the lions for possession of it. Finally, the Cape Buffalo circle the wagons, return and get into an old-fashioned standoff with the pride. They gore the hell out of a couple lions and run them off. Then, miraculously, the calf stands. Alive.

The video itself is eight minutes long. Even small and hopelessly grainy on YouTube, it's just about the most riveting thing I've ever seen. Given the National Geographic treatment -- in which they spend 15 minutes showcasing YouTube comments -- the life is sucked out, the drama's flayed and the voiceover guy just gets things wrong. Wanting to spell out the drama for us at one point, the voice guy exclaims, "The victorious lions crowd the calf, ready to dispatch their prey." Seconds later, Frank Watts, the safari guide, remarks that he was surprised the lions didn't appear to be trying to kill the calf at all. Der....

In the same mad scrap for viewers that made firing the British guys seem like a good idea, TV "documentarians" have lost track of what makes a captivating story. Here they chose YouTube as a phenomenon over lion vs. crocodile vs. Cape Buffalo, and the TV-watching world is impoverished for it.


We're in season finale country. Like flavor country, with less flavor. Here's what's coming up:

Ugly Betty

For the final episode of Season Two, the producers up the ante with guest appearances by Naomi Campbell (as Elle magazine's softball ringer) and Lindsay Lohan. Meanwhile, Betty deals with the pros and cons of romance. (ABC, Thursday 5/22, 8 pm)

Grey's Anatomy

So these doctors deal with life and death every day -- once pulling an unexploded mortar round out of someone -- and this season's two-hour finale centers on an unexpected kiss?! (ABC, Thursday 5/22, 9 pm)


What the middle of the season lost was my attention. But already knowing which survivors made it makes me want to know how they did it. (ABC, Thursday 5/29, 10 pm)

Battlestar Galactica

Show's going on hiatus, so we're getting a half-season finale. We still don't know where Earth is or who the last secret Cylon is. We might find out the latter now. We'll have to wait for Earth until maybe like 2009. (Sci-Fi Channel, Friday 5/30, 10 pm)

Art, Nature and the Voice of the River @ People's Park

Sun., June 13, 11 a.m.
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