I watched the History Channel’s “Life After People” special on Google video the other day. The reason for watching it on Google Video is that I forgot to watch it when it was on TV - I wish I had, too, because watching an hour and a half of blurry video in a flash player isn’t really worth it.
The premise is that everybody dies - not really dies, I guess, we all disappear without damaging anything or leaving six billion corpses, but whatever, that’s not the point. The point is just to be entropy porn.
It was marketed in that dumbed-down “OH HEY EXPLOSIONS WOW” way that most science/engineering related TV is lately, and you can tell that the main appeal was supposed to be CGI versions of famous buildings around the world falling down or catching fire. When we’re shown Chicago 500 years in the future, it’s the Sears tower they show falling over. In New York, it’s the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. I don’t necessarily fault them for doing this, since I think the impact of the imagery is diminished if you don’t immediately recognize the subject, and overall, “Life After People” doesn’t pander to the audience nearly as hard as I had feared.
I was watching the show because they had a segment on Pripyat, Ukraine, and I have something of an obsession with the Chernobyl Exclusion zone. I don’t really know why that is, but playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. certainly didn’t help, and here we are. The Pripyat section was too short, I thought, but then again I’d be perfectly happy watching two solid hours of UrbEx in that place, so what do I know? Actually, to bring up S.T.A.L.K.E.R. again, it was kind of eerie seeing how accurately the guys from GSC Games modeled the city in the game - to the point where I recognized some of the buildings. The interiors of the buildings.
Also, they used the phrase “cascade of failure” five minutes in, and I giggled from there until the very end.
“Life After People” managed to hold my interest throughout, largely I think because it’s an idea that don’t think anyone in the popular media has ever looked at. I was surprised by some of the conclusions, actually - apparently the NYC subway would start flooding in as little as 2 days, and every power plant except the Hoover Dam (again, they only focused on well-known structures - I’m sure this is true for most hydroelectric plants as well) would shut down within a day, while the dam would be cranking for a couple of years, and only collapse after centuries of neglect. It’s kind of funny, actually, the different timescales in which things fall apart - roads start to turn to grassy fields in just a decade, which seems awfully fast, but steel and concrete skyscrapers last for hundreds of years, which seems long.
It’s not perfect, but it’s worlds better that most of the stuff on History or Discovery, in that it incorporates actual science, and not just zany hosts and giant cranes and whatnot. I can’t think of a single time when they used the moronic TV measurement system, either - no heights were measured in Empire State Buildings, no lengths in football fields, just actual honest-to-god facts, from actual experts. Good to see that, now and again.
It’s worth watching for more than just the inevitable CGI explosions, and if nothing else, it could be the spearhead for a bold new niche market of nihilistic TV programming.