Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am


We were going to start this column by talk-ing about how the host of Wonders of the Universe (BBC Knowledge, today at 8.55pm) looks more like a rock star than a particle physicist. And then we looked more closely at the press materials. He is a rock star.

Dressed in a tight T-shirt and jeans and sporting the sort of casually tousled bangs that can only be achieved with years of careful preening, 42-year-old Professor Brian Cox seems intent on holding onto his musical glory days of the 1990s and 80s, when he was in Dare and then D:Ream, a band he rejoined for the 2011 album, In Memory Of ...

Cox has done more interesting things since tinkling the plastic for middling pop acts, having earned a PhD in high energy particle physics, hosting the BBC series Wonders of the Solar System (a predecessor to Universe, which seems the wrong way round to us) and nabbing a job working on the Large Hadron Collider, which, as far as we can tell, is where the world's maddest scientists gather to replicate black holes and push us ever closer to the world of Futurama.

With his endearing Lancashire accent and perpetual grin, for some Cox will be a force almost as compelling as the mesmerisingly nerdy material he covers: black holes, entropy, gamma rays and galaxies. Backed by cinematography that does true justice to the heavily botoxed high-definition technology that makes the nature images pop, Cox breaks down the complicated creatine of astrophysics into digestible nuggets that make the inadvertent brain expansions not only endurable, but enjoyable. Tune in to find out why a black hole would cause you to be, in Cox's words, 'quite literally spaghettified'. I'm sure you'd be delicious with a pomodoro.

Staying with the Beeb, we had to laugh along with Russell Brand on The Graham Norton Show on BBC Entertainment last Saturday, especially when the comedian belittled Emily Blunt's anecdote about encountering a shark while diving.

'Did it eat people; was it that type?' he asked the actress, tongue firmly in cheek. When she said that it wasn't, he continued: 'So, it's just a type of fish.

'That's your story?' he asked with mock incredulity. 'You were near a fish once.'

The interchange came back to gnaw on our funny bone the following day, with reports that a family had to get out of the water off Lamma Island after a shark had been spotted. The family wouldn't have known it was a harmless whale shark, so their fright must have been real, but it turned out they, too, had just been near a fish - despite what hysterical newspaper headlines may have wanted you to believe.

Over on Discovery this week, we have a show that pits man against everything the universe tried to wean out of existence through hundreds of millennia of natural selection. Nik Wallenda, a spiky-haired American, does dangerous things for thrills, such as walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Or suspending himself by the mouth from a cable that hangs below a flying helicopter. Or standing on the top rail of a moving Ferris wheel.

In Danger by Design (above; Discovery, Wednesday at 9pm), Wallenda shows how science informs his approach to pulling stunts that science should really just be leaving alone. Much of what Wallenda gets up to comes down to careful engineering and wind-speed measurements, but the rest comes from internal drive.

'It's in my blood,' he says. Which is probably true; Wallenda is the seventh generation of an acrobatic family called The Flying Wallendas, a group that since the 1920s has experienced several tragedies. Most significantly, its pioneer - Wallenda's great-grandfather, Karl - fell to his death aged 73 when attempting to walk between the two towers of a 10-storey hotel in Puerto Rico. The video is on YouTube. It is tragic. In a way, it explains why Wallenda feels so compelled to carry on the tradition.

By the time you're done with that, you'll be in need of relief. A campy fashion show from Oprah's own television channel in the United States should help. In Carson Nation (TLC, Tuesdays at 10pm), Queer Eye for the Straight Guy favourite Carson Kressley takes an Airstream with him on a tour of random towns around America - decided by the toss of a dart in a map - to bring fashion uplift to people who are being battered by life struggles, whether it be a life-threatening illness or a messy divorce. (This is Middle America, so he has plenty of material to work with.)

Kressley's show is easy, heart-warming stuff, which is often better viewing than people needlessly risking their lives.