The latest dazzling nature epic from the good folks at Discovery will chill you in all the right ways. The team of producers from Discovery and the BBC Natural History Unit, responsible for the sumptuous breakout hits Planet Earth and Life, are now introducing armchair travelers to Frozen Planet (Sunday, 8/7c), an endlessly fascinating seven-part foray into the most remote and unforgiving regions of the Arctic and Antarctic.
The ever-changing ecology is as mesmerizing as the diverse biology, with astonishing time-lapse photography revealing violent changes of seasons as tundra thaws. Violent and emotionally evocative vignettes of survival are par for the course as we observe polar bears fighting for sustenance, penguins frolicking in the surf and an albatross awkwardly taking flight, among myriad other marvels. Some behaviors are said to be captured for the first time on camera, including a jaw-dropping display of strategic synchronicity as a pod of orcas ("wolves of the sea") dive under an ice floe to dislodge an outmatched seal from its perch. We also watch from a helicopter's long-view perspective as a pack of actual wolves take on a herd of bison.
But the cameras are just as likely to go micro, as in a magical close-up look at the formation of crystalline snowflakes as they fall. Even when the narration gets awfully punny ("Pups are just wild about hare"), the wonders of Frozen Planet never cease. You're likely to be left speechless, except for all those "oohs" and "aahs."
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ALSO CHILLING: From a planet of abundant life to a scorched landscape of encroaching death, the second-season finale of AMC's The Walking Dead (Sunday, 10/9c) arrives after a one-two punch of episodes that dispatched major characters with maximum impact. And as Rick and son Carl reel from having had to kill Shane twice — once at Rick's hands, in undisputed self-defense, and then as Carl's first kill when the former deputy rose as a zombie — they're immediately set upon by one of the most relentless and seemingly endless herds of "walkers" yet. For all those who've been itching for this tribe of survivors to high-tail it away from Hershel's farm, this is your moment, because they have no choice. It's a pivotal last stand that leads directly to the story's next chapter. Waiting till next Halloween (I'm presuming) will be excruciating.
USA'S LEADING LADIES: "Your mouth's like a gun. You should watch where you point that thing," says a new sparring partner for mediator Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) in the second-season opener of USA Network's Fairly Legal (Friday, 9/8c). "Nothing's easy with you," laments a therapist trying to crack the hard shell of witness-protection marshal Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) as USA's In Plain Sight kicks off its fifth and final season (Friday, 10/9c). The question of whether these quirky women are too rude for their (and their shows') own good was raised by a viewer in this week's Ask Matt column — a debate that's likely to continue as the new seasons develop, although there's no doubting the star quality of these leading ladies.
The greatest change is afoot on In Plain Sight, as perpetually grouchy Mary prepares to return to work after a six-month maternity leave. Motherhood may have humanized her, but it hasn't softened her. Showing up earlier than expected, Mary reverts quickly to holy-terror form, bristling upon realizing a subordinate co-worker has temporarily occupied her desk. As everyone cringes in fear, she sneers, "Excuse me while I puke on this puke" (her jacket bears traces of spit-up, naturally). Because her labor coincided with Mary shooting a perp, she's ordered to therapy, which gives us a chance to try to understand what compelled this least maternal of figures — with major mommy and family and commitment issues — to accept the child and not give her away to adoption.
The case of the week, as often happens on shows like this, reflects Mary's own situation, involving a mother and her son who take turns stepping up to expose an exclusive college fraternity with deadly secrets. Some decent twists along the way, but the focus is really on Mary and the new person in her life who is even more helpless without her than her WITSEC clientele.
The tone of Fairly Legal is much more madcap, at times evoking David E. Kelley in its flip silliness as we're reintroduced to the effervescent Shahi as Kate, the lawyer-phobic, free-spirited legal mediator who's just been fired from her family's financially struggling law firm by her widowed stepmother (Virginia Williams) — a situation we know won't last long — while edging closer to divorce from her hunky prosecutor ex (Michael Trucco). A new potential love-hate interest rears its head, Shonda Rhimes-style, in the opening scene, as Kate rebuffs a handsome admirer's come-on while drowning her sorrows at a posh bar.
It will surprise absolutely no one who's ever watched TV that this same dude (Ryan Johnson) ends up being a glib "scumbag" (his client's words) of a hotshot lawyer who's involved in Kate's next mediation. Even though he refers to her as "Kali, the goddess of dissolution and destruction," you know they're not going to be able to stay out of each other's perfectly styled hair.
"You're diluting the brand," the new guy tells Kate, which in USA terms isn't exactly true. Yes, the banter is forced and precious, and the premise of the show remains rather fuzzy. But they're all so darned pretty, which is just how USA likes it. Especially on a Friday night.
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