Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Make Your Brain All Muscular and Sexy

     I've been watching a lot of educational television lately. This is partly because now that I'm not in college anymore, sometimes I panic and go "Oh shit! What if I'm getting stupid again!" and feel like I need to learn stuff and exercise my brain muscle so it doesn't get flabby and have to buy new jeans. (Wait what?) But it's mostly because I've been having a really hard time sleeping, and late at night when other channels are playing paid programming or some creepy looking guy who smiles with his teeth the whole time he talks about Jesus, the National Geographic channel is usually playing something that sounds amazing. I think two in the morning is their primetime. But it kind of sucks because I watch these shows by myself in the middle of the night and then the next day I want to tell everyone what I learned, and for some reason people don't seem to want to listen to me describe an educational program to them in excruciating detail. What's that about? So instead (who am I kidding, I've already talked about these to everyone who'll listen, so that should really say "additionally") I've got it down to the....

 Top Three Educational but also Strangely Entertaining Shows I've Watched Recently! 

(By virtue of the fact that, as I said, Nat Geo is the only channel that plays anything worth watching at odd hours of the night, I think they're all Nat Geo shows. So yeah, it's a little biased. Somebody send this to them and ask if they'd like me to be a paid endorser.)

  1. Animal Superpowers: Extreme Survivors

         What I learned from this show is that I will watch literally anything if it's narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart. Seriously, I don't remember a single fact from this show (which, to be honest, I only caught the last fifteen minutes of, but it made an impression). I know there's part where a guy pinches off a salamander's tail and films the tail flipping around and wiggling on a super high speed camera for what feels like forever. It's at least long enough for you to devolve from passive interest to intense introspective questioning, e.g, “Why is this still happening? Why am I still watching? What is my life about?”

         Here's a link to the preview for the show, in case you're into writhing-salamander-tail induced existential crises. Whatever makes your skirt fly up, I guess. Also, full disclosure: I only went looking for video so that you could hear Patrick Stewart say “salamander,” which is definitely the high point of this show. I'm not even kidding. You need to hear Patrick Stewart say “sah-la-MAN-der” in an earnest, weirdly reverent way. I want to make Patrick Stewart saying “salamander” my ringtone. Patrick Stewart saying “salamander” is the meaning of life. But to get to my point: Patrick Stewart does not say “salamander” in this preview. Here it is anyway.

  2.  How Big Can it Get?

         This is a series that looks into different kinds of animals that can get freakishly huge. That's it, that's all it is. This is, in my own humble opinion, the perfect show. It's the pinnacle of tv; everything from here on out will be downhill. 

    (They were playing it in a marathon that also included Hogzilla, which, if you haven't seen it, you need to. I am weirdly obsessed with Hogzilla. I can't explain why, but in dark times, it makes me feel better to remember I live on the same planet as Hogzilla. Spellcheck is refusing to recognize “Hogzilla” as a word, which I find insulting. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE GREATNESS, SPELLCHECK).

         The episode I saw recently was about crocodiles (and thus was called, obviously, Croczilla), and it was fabulously entertaining. I learned that at one point, (like, 100 million years ago, so don't feel bad if you don't remember it), crocodiles were giant freaking monsters with six-foot-long skulls. For reference, the largest crocodiles we have today have skulls around two feet long. And there's kind of nothing stopping them from getting that huge again. They just grow indefinitely until they die. So, theoretically, if you had a crocodile that had nice conditions (as in, nothing to eat it before it grows up) and warm weather, it could end up being the next Supercroc, and you would definitely get your own reality show about all the wacky adventures you and Supercroc have. You and Supercroc sharing a bunk bed, you and Supercroc buying funny hats, you getting mad at Supercroc for using up all the milk before you had your cereal, you going missing for several days until they find you inside Supercroc's gargantuan belly.
         You can watch Croczilla in its entirety on youtube. I don't want to tell you what to do with your life, but I do sort of feel like not watching this is a colossal mistake and I don't understand your choices.

  3. Unlikely Animal Friends
         I saw two episodes of this, because I make good use of my time. And both episodes were surprisingly hard-hitting in terms of the frivolous-sounding-show-title to sucker-punch-emotional-blow ratios. The first one told the tale of this orangutan, Tonda, that was depressed and lonely after her mate died. She didn't want to paint anymore and she wasn't eating much and she wasn't interested in any of her toys. (How sad are you right now? I need to know I'm not the only one who thinks a lonely orangutan is unbearably sad.) 

         But then this tabby cat named T.K. makes friends with Tonda and softens her grumpy old heart and she's happy again and they show video of them playing and the cat weaving in and out of the orangutan's legs and it's so cute you feel your heart growing three sizes like the Grinch BUT THEN. BUT THEN. 

         Then the narrator goes “Yes, Tonda and T.K. the cat's friendship was truly remarkable.” And your squishy enlarged heart turns to cold hard stone and crumbles into ash because WAS? And that's how they break the news to you that Tonda died. I'm not going to lie to you, I cried the ugliest cry. And I watched this at like three in the morning, so I had to do a quiet ugly cry, because how awkward would it be to wake everyone up with my sobbing and then have to explain that I was just gutted by the loss of a grouchy orangutan I'd never met? Yeah, super awkward.

    Photo credit: National Geographic. LOOK AT THIS CUTENESS.
         So after that experience I'm not even sure why I watched a second episode, but here we are. The second episode was about unlikely human-animal friendships, and the first story was about how this Canadian couple found a weak fawn on their doorstep. It imprinted on them, so they raised it like a pet, and it made me want a pet deer so badly that I actually started to get angry about it. I thought about all the time humanity could have been spending domesticating deer over the generations and suddenly it felt like we, as a species, have made some pretty damn big missteps if we don't even have pet deer. I just kind of sat there in a quiet rage, like "HULK WANT BABY DEER AS PET."  It was a weird moment.

         I won't even tell you about Hopalong and Skipalong, the two buffalo that this (Australian?) boy made friends with, because SPOILER ALERT: the boy has to move away from them and then one of the buffalo dies and it. is. horrible.

        The show was only redeemed by including footage of a grizzly bear celebrating his birthday, eating carrot cake and pawing at a pinata shaped like a salmon. It was as cute as you're imagining, plus a thousand million times cuter. 

         So there you have it, three new shows that you can set to record on your dvr, then either watch for your own genuine enjoyment or watch just to see what I'm talking about so that you can then more effectively make fun of my viewing choices. Or just not watch, I don't run your life.  

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