Apple TV+ docuseries Earth at Night in Color delivers a fresh batch of majestic nighttime sights, cruel natural phenomena and fascinating perspectives in its second season, which premieres today. The show didn’t quite reinvent the nature documentary wheel, but it still offers a welcome retreat from the horrors of 2021.
Earth at Night in Color season 2 review
The idea behind Earth at Night in Color is right there in the name. Camera technology finally advanced so far that scenes of nocturnal existence from species living hitherto uncaptured existences are finally visible. This means that rituals and behavior that scientists have long known about or suspected can finally be caught for proof and posterity.
It’s a great step in ensuring we know even more about the natural world, and it also makes for great TV.
Earth at Night in Color is all about inspiring awe. It’s filled not just with gorgeous photography of beautiful animals — seals, elephants, kangaroos, pumas, etc. — but also things like the northern lights or insects whose bioluminescence brightens the night sky. The show hits you with one beautiful image after another, set to Christian Lundberg‘s sweeping electronic score and Tom Hiddleston‘s narration. The cumulative effect is a soothing, drifting sensation.
Look around you
I was miffed to discover after reviewing the first season of this show last year that most of the footage, and the day-for-night filming technique developed to get these images, had already appeared in a Netflix show called Night on Earth. I don’t know who to blame for that beyond capitalism, but in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been shocked. The streaming networks are all hugely competitive. Literally poaching a show’s content out from under it like a competing oil derrick does make a sick sort of sense.
Once you get over the oddness of this being the second season to someone else’s show, there’s plenty to like. Season 2’s first episode, about a family of elephants, is sort of an adorable wash. It doesn’t do much with the usual elephant narrative in nature shows: There’s a draught, they have to migrate, they encounter hardships along the way. Elephants aren’t really that interesting, cute as they are.
This nature doc is all about the images
The episodes about pumas, kangaroos, polar bears and seals all have basically the same narrative structure — young animals must learn to survive with and without their parents across several miles of inhospitable territory, fending off predators and the like — but they’re all great.
Watching cute animals take center stage as a window into an isolated ecosystem (a patch of the Andes, a beach on the Skeleton Coast) is as good a strategy for making people care about the world as any. The pumas and kangaroos especially make for excellent camera subjects. The images of the roos against the night sky in Australia prove truly stunning.
At its best, Earth at Night in Color has the feel of big budget science fiction, something like James Cameron’s Avatar minus the dopey mysticism, bad CGI and fascinating gender politics. Just as with last season, it’s still easy to get lost just staring at this show. However, because it’s so hypnotic, it’s not always easy to remember everything it’s trying to tell you about the lives of its animal subjects.
I suppose that matters less because you can always watch this (or some other network’s show using the same technology) again.
Earth at Night in Color on Apple TV+
Season 2 of Earth at Night in Color premieres on April 16 on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.