Why Blue Planet II is literally out of its depth

Stop being so clever and give us some nice seals.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

As I was settling down to a lovely Sunday evening Blue Planet II viewing session, staving off the Monday dread and soaking up the persistent dregs of a hangover with anything roastable from the fridge, I realised something.

This is the Paradise Papers of the set-piece nature programme world.

Like the Paradise Papers, Blue Planet II is uncovering vital information, never before seen by the public. And, like the Paradise Papers, its focus on process over the story obscures that.

We spoke on this week’s NS podcast about how both the BBC and Guardian reported too much on how they broke the story of the massive tax affairs leak – which news organisations had access to the documents, who knew the source, and how big the scoop was in comparison to Wikileaks and the Panama Papers – rather than the story itself.

If this is the top line, it’s just not that gripping a story.

It’s the same with Blue Planet II, or at least its second episode, “The Deep”. So dedicated was this episode to discovering depths of the ocean we’d never seen before, so engrossed was it in how it does this with state-of-the-art submarines and whizzy camera technology, it seemed to forget that not everything it was actually discovering was that great.

Once we’d sunk below the depths of the banging whale carcass festival, passed through ol’ fangtooth’s domain, seen the female kobudai hiding in a hole, changing sex and then coming out to wreak revenge, we ended up at a chasm 11km from the surface.

Only three human beings have reached here before, we’re told. But you can kind of see why. There’s not much down there. A few fancy sponges. A smattering of barely distinguishable organisms. Some white tick-like things. Just general bits of sea matter. And darkness.

Fantastic work for science, of course, but the Blue Planet II producers may have been so caught up in this that they forgot it’s not why everyone loves these programmes so much.

Nothing like the friendly walruses or badass orcas of the first episode down here. No stranded polar bear single mothers and randy but rejected dancing birds in sight. Where were the house-swapping crabs? Baby birds nearly plunging to their deaths? Solemn whales travelling 85 years for half a krill? Nowhere to be seen in the abyss.

The pioneering oceanography and light-up lumps of worm are all very impressive, but they need to be interspersed with some nice seals every once in a while. Like everything in life, we need the shallows with the depths. Especially on a Sunday night.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.