TV review: Human Planet

The Human Planet series has reached the Arctic and there should have been a warning at the start: dozens of animals were killed during the making of this programme

Skins: your verdict on the new cast

Mmmm, kiviak for tea. The recipe? Take one rotten old seal skin, stuff with little auks – the whole thing, beaks, feet, feathers and all, about 500 of them should do it. Sew the seal skin up, add a dollop of grease, put a big rock on top and leave for several months, until the birds have fermented into a sticky, pungent, toxic, cheesy gloop. Then enjoy with friends for Christmas. Mmmm. Suddenly mum's overcooked turkey isn't looking so bad (I know Mum, it was Simon's fault).

Human Planet (BBC1) has reached the Arctic – northern Greenland. They must be getting used to British television crews up there; Bruce Parry was in town just the other day.

The catching of the auks is fun – fishing in the sky with nets on long springy poles. Not so fun for the auks, but there seem to be plenty of them up there.

A narwhal hunt is exciting, too. Three men in kayaks working in a pack, using stealth and cunning like corvettes hunting a U-boat. When the battle is over, and won, it's a sorrier sight; the extraordinary creature pulled out on to ice by its magnificent spike, half whale, half unicorn. But hey, that's what they do up there, you've got to respect that. And they need the narwhal skin for vitamin C. Personally, I'd get in my kayak and paddle south, until I reached somewhere I could grow vegetables, or keep a chicken, or at least where there was a Tesco Metro, with orange juice, and pizzas as an alternative to kiviak.

The catching of an arctic shark, a monster from the dark depths, is sadder still. There's no battle, no contest, no drama – he's simply dragged up slowly from half a mile down, pulled unceremoniously through a hole in the ice to die, gasping in a world he doesn't belong in, then hacked apart and fed to the dogs. It's not just wildlife porn, this show; it's wildlife snuff porn, a total slaughter fest. There should be a warning at the start; dozens of animals were killed during the making of this programme.

At least in the town of Churchill in northern Canada the tables are turned. Here, hungry polar bears roam the streets, looking for bite-sized children to snack on before they get to the seal colonies further north. Halloween is a specially fruitful hunting time. Mmmm . . . trick or child.

The start of series five of Skins (E4) means a whole new cast to get to know. Franky looks initially promising. She's freaky, androgynous ("is that a batty or a lezza?" in teenspeak) and has an interesting style. There's some bad stuff in her past: bullying, a Facebook – sorry "Friendlook" – fraping, her best mate Dean went to young offenders ("that's so fucking cool!").

But it very quickly all goes a bit pantomime, with her two gay dads with their overvests and their serrano and reblochon sandwiches, and a ridiculous mobility scooter joyride chase on the way to school. So by the time Franky gets there, instead of feeling her awkward terror and dying inside and all those other things I can just about remember from starting at a new school, I'm just feeling mildly unamused. Hello? Earth to ridiculous?

In the past Skins has been sad and difficult and occasionally beautiful, much like teenage. And if it hasn't perfectly reflected reality, it has certainly had some basis there – like one of those wonky distortive fairground mirrors that produces a scarier version of the real you.

So far, this lot just seem a bit sillier. And I'm not overimpressed with the acting: there's too much of that . . . hesitant . . . pausing . . . inexperienced . . . actors . . . do because they think it makes them sound real but actually it makes them sound as if they're in a school play. And then a gun, already, out of nowhere . . .

The first day back is always difficult, maybe it will settle down, bed in. I'll be interested to hear what people of a target audience age make of it. But for one fortysomething it could be time to let Skins go.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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