A few years after the impressive Tiny World, Apple TV+ delivers its antithesis — Big Beasts, a nature documentary series that serves up a look at the largest creatures on earth.
Narrated by Tom Hiddleston, this playful and awed series is aimed at children ready to be sucked into the drama of the natural world (or a slightly older audience doing laundry). It’s ideal afternoon viewing for both demographics.
Big Beasts review: Season one
To the dulcet tones of Hiddleston’s narration, Big Beasts introduces us to one behemoth after another. A gray whale and her baby make a great migration in search of protein-rich waters off the coast of California. Bull elephant seals fight for dominance on their patch of icy beach.
Hippos, gorillas, tigers and bears, oh my — these are the stars of this beguiling nature show. Watch them navigate the world at sizes that dwarf most humans, dodging predators and preying on other critters. We also get tangents about the smaller animals, birds and fish, that occupy the same ecosystems, complicating and enriching the bigger beasts’ existences.
It’s a brutal, violent, and strange world, and it is a privilege to get a window into it.
So many wildlife facts
This is one of those win-win documentaries that I’m always happy to see more of. It delivers stunning close-up photography of deadly animals (even the benign ones like the whales could probably kill you if you weren’t careful) in picturesque locations, edited in breathless slow-mo. There’s very little to this, but I have to give these researchers credit because either I forgot all these biology facts, or I just didn’t ever learn this stuff.
For instance, did you know an octopus has nine brains and three hearts and lays 100,000 eggs? What planet did those freaky things come from?
Formally, Big Beasts is exactly what you expect from a post-Planet Earth nature documentary. But hey, there’s a reason we keep making this sort of thing. What’s slightly enervating about this particular series is that Apple TV+ embargoed each individual episode and is releasing them two at a time each Friday for the next several weeks.
Big Beasts is nature docuseries born to be binged
Now far be it from me to suggest nonfiction shouldn’t get the red-carpet treatment of a dramatic series, but I don’t really get it in this particular case. This is the kind of thing designed to be binged, not doled out meagerly. The episodes come in at only a half-hour long, after all. And though Big Beasts is an appealing watch, it’s not exactly the most hooky thing on earth. It’s not like there are cliffhangers or anything, after all.
So I’m taking this opportunity to introduce a concept that I’m hoping will lower my blood pressure. When an Apple TV+ show like this one proves that there is no particular reason to be covered week by week, we’re going to introduce it and then give it a wide berth. Some shows build in room for growth and development. Others are content to be exactly what they appear to be from the first minutes of the first episodes.
So, in cases like this, we’ll give you a feel for the show and then bestow upon them the Hasselhoffs Memorial No Recap Prize, named for the ill-fated A&E reality series starring David Hasselhoff and his two daughters that only managed to get one episode to airtime before being canceled.
While I enjoyed what I saw of Big Beasts, it would be silly to cover it week after week. The same is true, incidentally, of the upcoming season of Apple TV+ dinosaur doc Prehistoric Planet. Pretty sure we know how that one ends, and you can only marvel at dinosaurs and polar bears for so many words.
Watch Big Beasts on Apple TV+
Big Beasts premieres today on Apple TV+, with new episodes coming on following Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV+
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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 30 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.