Earthquakes, volcanos, tidal waves, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Is there no end to the nightmares we must suffer as residents of planet Earth? Here in America, the greatest country that was ever invented by rich white men for rich white men, we’re catching up on the BBC’s programme of animals having sex with each other and killing each other while having sex with each other, and they called it “Life,” even managing to keep a straight face doing it. And while the lucky residents of the British Isles were listening to the high-definition sounds of brutality narrated by David Attenborough, we’ve been subjected to the awkward phrasing and weird inflections of the most perfect woman on the face of the planet, Oprah.
To say that Oprah’s voice makes every scene sound like she’s amazed by the mere existence of creatures other than herself probably goes without saying. One imagines her poised before a microphone with the script sitting on a diamond-studded solid gold podium before her, her hair and make-up people constantly filling in acne scars and combing out her hair into a semblance of a wave crashing over the indigenous population of Papua New Guinea as she reads about how cuttlefish can change color to ward off other males during the mating ritual and making the recording technicians constantly stop tape as she proclaims, “Damn! I wish Stedman would change his stripes! Ho ho ho! Am I right, audience?”
It isn’t just that the woman is so out of touch with reality that the idea that she’s been chosen to explain these scenes to us seems a bit like asking Rush Limbaugh to explain the intricacies of Weight Watchers, it’s also that her voice is constantly rising and falling at regular intervals with complete indifference to what’s actually happening, creating a weird and unsettling sense that what you’re looking at isn’t at all what she’s describing.
Watching Life is equal parts amazing and horrible. Sure, it’s an honest reflection of the laws of nature, the whole kill or be killed thing, the survival of the fittest thing, the aren’t baby animals cute except when they are being devoured thing. But Mme. Oprah’s narration treats everything we’re watching with the same level of simmering cuteness that accompanies your aunt’s narration of her trip to Honolulu.
“And here’s a fish we saw in the coral. It was pretty. I think it’s a kind of angel fish or something. In this next picture… oh, wait, no, that’s me at the… the pool? I think? I think, yes, that’s the pool and that’s our hotel and you can almost see our room only it’s around the side of that part. And here’s where the hippo attacks the alligator and submerges below the water.”
The word “miraculous” needs to have an entirely different reading from the word “larva,” but Oprah’s tongue seems incapable of these distinctions. She knows only how to move her voice up and down about every three or four syllables, reSULting in an anNOYing repeTItion of the SAME falls and RISes reGARDless of WHAT is CURrently on disPLAY whether that’s the atTACK of a TIGer or the SUBtle SLEEP of a FAWN.
Watching the series with the sound turned off helps a little, though you then miss the nuances of the real world’s sounds while trying to deny Oprah’s annoying cadence. It makes one ache for the seemingly effortless narrative – and dramatic – skills of a Stephen Fry, or a John Hurt, or the accomplished actress that Ms. Winfrey replaced in the role of explaining the natural world to America, Sigourney Weaver.
But no. We are saddled, sadly, with a woman whose accomplishments in life have somehow left her unable to explain the accomplishments of Life.
This is Glassdog, where the wildlife is always hungry and the fight for survival takes the form of getting the lasy pair of size 11 Pradas at Zappos.