I used to think fishing was boring and gross, since it requires patience and worms.
Animal Planet’s Jeremy Wade hooked my perception, reeled it in and then gutted it.
A biologist and extreme angler, Wade makes fishing look thrilling and sexy, just as Indiana Jones did with archaeology.
Only this isn’t Lucasfilm. It isn’t your standard catch-release-and-brag sequence, either. It’s leagues past that.
River Monsters documents Wade on a gallivanting goose chase to uncover the biggest, most bizarre, most dangerous mysteries lurking beneath freshwater — which grudgingly emerge from places as varied as the suburbs of Berlin and the murky depths of the Amazon.
The show is about chasing legend and dissecting myth. It examines folklore and the mental challenges of seeking an elusive prize. Wade discusses ecosystem impact, as well as cultural significances to indigenous denizens of the surrounding area.
In the most recent episode from Season 2, he ventures deep into the foreboding Congo River in search of the ferocious Goliath Tigerfish. Seemingly supernatural at times, the thing is basically the aquatic version of Satan or an underwater hyena. Locals explain it’s the only fish that isn’t afraid of crocodiles. Hell, it snacks on the smaller ones.
Wade visits the village witch doctor for help, after consecutive failed attempts. He catches one the following day.
The main attraction, of course, is the reluctant gaggle of slippery guest stars. Some resemble the bug-eyed Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars. Others, like the gigantic Queensland Grouper, look like a walrus with fins.
Wade stakes out his own identity among the ranks of other travel/adventure/animal personas. He’s got the gut instinct of Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild. He’s articulate and engaging like Anthony Bourdain from No Reservations (minus the sensually explicit commentary). He’s got the inquisitive gusto of Steve Irwin.
“Those teeth are so sharp, people don’t notice until they look down and see all the blood,” he says, grasping the lower jaw of a black piranha. He peels its lips back a little, so the cameras can zoom in.
The show taps into that same kind of dreaded fascination elicited by Jaws, or at least Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
But River Monsters isn’t so much about gore as about strategy and pursuit. The new season starts Sunday, April 25.
Watching someone have a meltdown over throwing away an old sponge may not sound appealing, but Hoarders grabs your attention like a bizarre animal at the zoo. Can the professional interventionists wean the sentimental addicts away from their garbage? Strange and almost uncomfortable to watch — yet fascinatingly mind-boggling — this show takes the term “trashy TV” to a whole new level. (A&E, Mondays, 10 pm)
Sports buffs who catalogue random minutia and coddle it forever with childlike nostalgia will love this documentary series, commemorating ESPN’s upcoming 30th anniversary. Thirty films highlight 1979 to 2009. “ESPN loves celebrating ourselves,” says creator Bill Simmons. (ESPN, April 27, 1 pm)
Say Yes to the Dress
In-laws, bridezillas, maids of honor, oh my! Say Yes to the Dress exposes the madhouse that is Kleinfeld Bridal (the Ikea of wedding outfitters). Packed with absurd scenarios like dress-sharing and religious battles between future mother-in-laws and brides-to-be, this show is bittersweet, chaotic and wicked addicting. (TLC, new episode airs April 23)