Occasionally a TV programme really makes you sit up and admire the audacity of the person who was prepared to risk being laughed out of an ideas meeting by coming up with something so derivative. One of the best/worst in recent months was the BBC's 'Urban Chef' featuring Oliver Rowe, which shamelessly copied 'Jamie's Kitchen' (complete with stressed out partner) but with the challenge of sourcing all the produce for a new restaurant from within the M25. Fascinating. It's a challenge so random they may as well have made him do it all on a pogo stick, which would certainly have been a lot more interesting.
However, a worthy challenger has popped up on ITV primetime: 'Prehistoric Park'. The show centres on the adventures of Nigel Marven, an actual naturalist with a degree in botany and zoology, and an impressive track record in wildlife documentaries. The show is based on an unnecessarily complicated conceit: Nigel travels through time to rescue dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, and bring them back to Prehistoric Park.
As its title suggests, 'Prehistoric Park' is a pigswill of other ideas: 'Jurassic Park', 'Walking With Dinosaurs' and even 'Animal Hospital' (Nigel and his team frequently tend to wounded or infirm creatures). The 'time portal', through which Nigel drives his Land Rover, meanwhile, is reminiscent of the portal in 'Stargate SG-1'. Yup, the dearth of original thought behind the whole thing makes 'Celebrity Love Island' (sorry, itís just ĎLove Islandí now) look as fresh and original as 'The Singing Detective'.
And as you might expect when you attempt to combine these disparate influences, the end results are laughably strange. Last week Nigel rescued a giant woodlouse from a forest fire. When his Landrover broke down, Nigel's helpers at Prehistoric Zoo got a diplodocus (or similar) to *tow it back through the time portal*. Well, why not? You've got a diplodocus just standing around, so why not get it to do something useful? And if you can drive a Land Rover through a time portal, there's no reason why you can't run a tow rope through one, is there?
What's brilliant is that the ludicrous pretence has to be maintained at all times. Nigel in particular has to feign delight/shock/fear at things that aren't there. 'I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous! I've just found some fresh sabre-tooth scat, and that means a sabre-tooth could be watching me *right now*!' The mental cost of doing this over several months of filming can only be guessed at. You can imagine Nigel back home in the UK, fearfully peering through his net curtains, convinced that imaginary beasts are out there, just biding their time before they strike...
Even the show's website maintains this multi-layered world of made-up: 'Assisted by his crack team, park vet Susanne and head keeper Bob, Nigel finds that rescuing and looking after prehistoric creatures isn't as easy as he first thought!' Er, how hard *exactly* did he think that not looking after things that don't exist wouldn't be?
As for the computer effects, the backbone of this enormous game of pretend, they are, frankly, a bit rubbish. They're not *terrible*, but they're definitely not good either. The dinosaurs have that strangely weightless look and a fluidity about their movements that does not occur in nature, only in online 'virtual reality' environments, where the avatars rock unnaturally back and forth in a crude approximation of natural movement. Also, we'd like to offer some advice to the producers for the next series: don't attempt anything with fur, e.g., sabre-toothed tigers. Fur is notoriously hard to animate, especially on a budget, so why not attain exactly the same level of realism much more cheaply with a stuffed toy on a piece of string?
It's all enjoyably bad, if only for the number of times you find yourself involuntarily muttering 'Fucking hell!' at some new depth of rubbishness. Our compliments to the TV type who obviously thought the CG dinosaur genre had run its course, after 'Walking With Dinosaurs', spin-offs like 'Walking With Beasts', and mountains of cheap'n'nasty rip-offs on satellite and cable, but decided to make the programme anyway, giving the genre the equivalent of a quick scrub up with a tissue moistened with spit by bolting on a load of stupid crap.
But best of all is the sheer arbitrariness of 'Prehistoric Park'. Consider: if you're going to pretend you can go back through time, or that Nigel is actually confronted by dinosaurs, why stop there? Once you've so thoroughly waved goodbye to reality, why not just do whatever the fuck you want? Why not have Nigel enthusing:
'Look! It's a velociraptor! *On a scooter*! That's amazing! I've never seen that before!'
'Look out! That pterodactyl's got a gun!'
'Wow! Who'd have thought Henry the Fifth actually brought a T-Rex with him to the Battle of Agincourt? They don't tell you about *this* in the history books!'