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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 June, 2011, 12:00am


Despite her declaration, in the opening credits, that 'I love this state like I love my family', Sarah Palin's Alaska (TLC; Thursdays at 9pm) should, for clarity's sake, have been named Sarah Palin's Family ... who happen to live in Alaska. Against a forbiddingly wet and cold backdrop, we are treated to an 'intimate' - if flatteringly edited - peek into the lives of the former VP wannabe and her people.

And what do Sarah, Todd and their brood - Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, Trig, Laa-Laa and Po - do with their days? Why, they fish for fish, gut fish, fillet fish, cook fish, eat fish, talk about fish and, probably, dream about fish. There is a little bit of homespun politics - 'The harder you work, the more money you're going to make, the more fish you're going to be able to pick ... and that is a life lesson that so many could and should be learning,' says Palin at one point, shooting a despairing glance off camera - and a dash of family drama, all of which works out for the best. But for the most part, this is a home video for the masses, with a lot of references to 'how blessed' everyone is.

To give Sarah her due, she is related to people who work hard for a living, but they appear to be the point of this series, to show other Americans not so much the beauty of Alaska, but more the rugged wholesomeness of the Palin clan. That they are the sort of people who understand hardship; that they are the sort of people one might like to see running the country.

If you're not sizing Sarah up politically, it's hard to see why someone with a life of their own might want to stick with this show beyond a brief look to see what the other Palins look like.

'Things are bound to get better, aren't they ...?' asks Margene Henrickson doubtfully, after things have just got a whole lot worse for her family in episode one of the fifth and final season of Big Love (HBO Signature, Tuesdays at 10pm).

It's not a sentiment shared by anyone onscreen but it's good to welcome back Bill (Bill Paxton; Titanic), his three wives and their many offspring, none of whom have much in the way of adult supervision, judging by the amount of screen time the parental foursome (above) spend fighting the forces of prejudice. This and other holes in the plot aside - is there really no one in Utah who's not a bigot, a freak or a bigoted freak? - Big Love remains compelling viewing.

It helps that Bill, the head of a polygamous-but-otherwise-quite-normal family, is not a likeable man, his righteousness verging on smarminess more often than not. As he tries to win friends and forge alliances in his new role as a Utah State senator, you don't feel his many knocks as much as you might with a more sympathetic character - and so can revel a little in his squirming. As life spirals ever-more out of control and his wives become increasingly snippy with one another, you can't help wondering: how does Bill keep it up?

Although sprawling American families with political ambitions may have had a hand in the rainforest's demise, they are not immediately apparent in Ross Kemp: Battle for the Amazon (BBC Knowledge; Wednesdays at 10pm).

A sweat-soaked Kemp, a curiously watchable presenter given his soap-opera background, travels to areas of the Amazon basin in Brazil and Ecuador, getting to grips with the cattle and soya-bean farming and oil exploration that are causing rapid deforestation in the region - and the skullduggery behind the poverty that blights one of the most blessed parts of the world, in terms of resources.

'Drill, baby, drill,' was a slogan adopted by Palin in North America, but that approach hasn't done many favours for the indigenous tribes of South America. As Kemp journeys from crime-ridden town to oil-gloop-drenched scrub, he discusses the economics behind the destruction of mankind's largest planetary lung.

At one point, he outlines a bold Ecuadorian plan; to charge the rest of the world an annual US$350 million for not drilling in a part of the rainforest believed to be 'the most species-rich on the planet'.

It doesn't look like the world will pay up, though ... so, to give you an answer, Margene, things might not get better, no.