“Reality” TV strikes again in creating a dreadful television series
I’ve been captivated by things Egyptian since I visited Egypt last year as part of a Society American Travel Writers Freelance Council meeting that included an audience with Dr. Zahi Hawass, the media-savvy, imperious and very gifted secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Dr. Hawass is an aggressive advocate for the protection of ancient Egyptian treasures. He has developed an ego the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza and has a high profile, personally escorting VIPs around the sites, personally announcing every significant discovery, whether or not he made it and appearing on numerous legitimate documentaries.
Against this background, I was looking forward to the History Channel’s “Chasing Mummies” series that debuted last night. I have never written a television review-type post, but this misguided show merits a two thumbs down.
The plot was that a television crew was following Dr. Hawass and his team, including a comely intern, during the excavation of an early pyramid at Saqqara near Cairo. Comely intern Zoe, who unexpectedly showed up in place of intern Clare/Claire, but her papers were in order, so she was permitted to stay, often getting in the way. But Zoe is cute so she was invited to take her first look inside the pyramid. After a disjointed exploration, Zoe was improbably permitted, by one of Dr. Hawass’s team, to stay in the labyrinthian corridors by herself “for five minutes” to take pictures, which she did with her little point-and-shoot while the chamber was brilliantly lit by television cameras.
Zoe’s foot got jammed. Someone turned off the lights and locked the gates, and Zoe became reality TV’s equivalent of the silent-film heroine tied to the railroad tracks. If this program were to be believed, only Dr. Hawass, who had to be called from Cairo where he was doing a book signing, had the ability to unlock the gate and turn on the lights. It was contrived, lame and added nothing to the body of knowledge about ancient Egypt.
And then, in the second part, Dr. Hawass and his team traveled to “an oasis near Cairo” to demolish villagers’ homes that were built over ancient graves that contained mummies. Curious children watched homes being knocked down, and suddenly, the earth was pocked with holes that presumably led to underground burial chambers. An articulated loader, which was referred to as a bulldozer, broke through the surface of the ground, got stuck and then got unstuck.
Speaking of stuck, I stuck it out through the first episode, but I won’t waste my time on another. New York Times television critic Neil Genzlinger didn’t think any more of the program than I did. In his review, he called it “an annoying new show.” The History Channel’s website calls this a “documentary series.” They sure have a wry sense of humor! In fact, this entire program was a joke.