The History Channel would appear to
be operated these days by a gang of disgruntled people who flunked high
school history and are taking out their frustration by broadcasting
shows based on urban legends, ancient myths, Hollywood films, and low-concept
adventure. Notions of investigative or academic history have been
almost totally abandoned. What's even more disturbing is their
new logo, which abandons the original text "The History Channel"
in favor of the briefer, and inappropriately definitive, "History."
Cities of the Underworld is
a History Channel show that appears to be interested in the actualities
of history, but really only cares about delivering the same kind of
attention-grabbing speculations as programs about Nostradamus and the
2012 doomsday theory. I've already detailed many of the show's
offenses against intelligence in my review of Cities of the Underworld:
The Complete Season Two,
from host Don Wildman's inane chatter to the show's habit of presenting
myths and legends as undisputed fact.
Season Three finds the show delivering
the same overhyped, semi-sensationalistic information in an ever-so-slightly
more grounded way. Take this as faint praise, however. For
the most part, the show remains a load of overproduced nonsense.
During Season Three, COTU visits
London, Okinawa, Sicily, Las Vegas (a city that's less than 100 years
old), Belgium (twice), Los Angeles, Rome, Ethiopia, San Francisco, Egypt,
Turkey, and Sydney. In each locale, we explore the very oldest
and most secret places that lie hidden beneath the surface of the earth.
The variety of underground spaces ranges from the mundane to the truly
fascinating. The trouble is that even the most interesting places
are presented with cloudy, non-specific information that creates confusion
rather than clarity regarding what actually happened there.
During a visit to a limestone mine
outside London, we are led to believe we are going to see evidence of
medieval witchcraft. What follows is a moderately interesting
tour of a 600-year-old mine, and testimony from a "witchcraft expert"
that some accidental-looking slashes on the walls were pagan symbols
left by miners in the middle ages. For all we know, these markings
could have been made by COTU's crew knocking equipment against
the wall. Then we are shown digital images of much more interesting
pagan symbols of the era - the slashes bear no resemblance to any
I'm not going to bash (again) the
excitable Don Wildman, his taupe Adventure Jacket™, or his habit of
trying to crawl into spaces smaller than any human could reasonably
fit, except to present a selection of his choicest quotations from Season
- Picks up a skull, making
archaeologists around the world cringe, and says, "This might have
been a monk."
- Discussing Sicily: "This
whole place is just ancient history layered onto each other."
- Speaking to the aforementioned
witchcraft expert about paganism: "Witchcraft - what we now think
of as an evil, uh, witches' brew and all that Hamlet stuff
- this is not what we're talking about."
- Apropos of Jack the Ripper:
"So I'm picturing this man carrying innards, organs of these women,
down into the sewer, carrying them back to his base of operations."
Jack the Ripper may have escaped through
the sewers, but most definitely did not have a SPECTRE-style "base
of operations." But never mind. Wildman is expected to deal
with things in only the most lurid, glorified way, and he understandably
carries it off with the skill of someone who might rather be doing something
As in my previous review, I point the
finger at the History Channel. People tend to gullible and suggestible,
and they tend to believe what they see on TV. They don't do
this because they are stupid, but because they believe that others know
better than they do - a quality of humility, not idiocy. Television
executives know this perfectly well and they exploit this knowledge
with immoral regularity. Viewers beware: COTU is a misleading,
A&E Home Video presents the 13
episodes of Season Three across four discs in slim keepcases housed
inside of a card box. The presentation is serviceable, but not
As with Season Two, a failure.
The image is presented in a 1.78:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer.
Why A&E insists on presenting brand-new material this way is beyond
An unspectacular 2.0 stereo mix is
provided. Again, the soundtrack is dominated by the ostentatious
musical score, which runs the length of each episode, often muddying
the accented English of Wildman's foreign guides to the point of incomprehensibility.
The only extra on this set is a collection
of unused footage from several episodes, totaling about 30 minutes in
You would be wise to ignore this silly
program and read a book on a similar topic. Skip it, with
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.