Top five TV picks of the week: In Kew for plant life

David Attenborough focuses on plants. Photo / Supplied
David Attenborough focuses on plants. Photo / Supplied

Picks of the week: Kingdom of Plants & Prime Presents: Earthflight

At 86, Sir David Attenborough refuses to quit doing what he loves - making natural history documentaries. But at least for Kingdom of Plants, which he writes and presents, he got to stay in his homeland rather than venturing to the far ends of the earth. You see, this three-part series was shot over a year at Kew Gardens, or what is officially known as the Royal Botanical Gardens.

As Attenborough says, Kew is a "microcosm of the whole plant world ... with 90 per cent of all known plant species represented here in one form or another". And there just happens to be a pretty reliable replica of a rainforest housed in Kew's giant glass house, or Palm House as it is known, which was built in 1844 to house plant samples Victorian explorers brought back to England.

"Here at Kew it is possible to examine [plant life] in a way that is impossible in the wild," he says.

By using time-lapse and macro photography to hone in on a fascinating world that is all but invisible to the naked eye, Attenborough sets out to reveal a whole new dimension in the lives of plants.

So we meet the little Peruvian frog - it's as big as a thumb nail - that lives in the pool (or reservoir) found in the middle of a bromeliad, and by speeding up time the "plants show their true nature" with creepers flailing desperately as they try to reach out for something to cling on to. "Plants are not passive," says Attenborough, "but aggressive creatures every bit as competitive as animals."

Meanwhile, Prime's latest nature series is another BBC production, with Earthflight showing the world from a bird's-eye view, or as narrator David Tennant so dramatically puts it, "This is the world on a wing".

He's right though because there is nothing more nimble in the air than a bird, and they are the greatest world travellers, covering thousands of kilometres during migrations, and this series goes along for the ride.

Each episode explores a different continent through the eyes of the birds, and opens in North America with swarms of squawking snow geese as they make their way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic and confronting predators such as bald eagles ("a predator of cunning and power").

Then you're flying alongside brown pelicans in Baha, California, as they dive into the sea and take on 10 litres of water in their gaping mouths to nab their prey, and soaring with hawks as they dive-bomb bats at 160kph.

Three years in the making, it is brilliantly, and at times freakishly filmed with the birds so pristinely shot that you'd swear special effects had been used. The final episode of the six-part series is dedicated to the making of the show.

Picks of the week: Kingdom of Plants
When: Tuesday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Attenborough on plants

Prime Presents: Earthflight
When: Sunday, 8.40pm
Where: Prime
What: A bird's-eye view of the world

Comedy pick: The Mindy Project

This rom-com-meets-satirical sitcom is the brain child of Mindy Kaling who, as well as being a writer and producer of the American version of The Office, also starred in the show as dizzy customer service rep Kelly Kapoor. The Mindy Project follows Mindy as she balances her career as a New York gynaecologist with her dating life. Although her Office character also liked to talk about boys and dating, the shows are very different. There are familiar faces such as Stephen Tobolovsky (Deadwood, Californication) as the older, wiser doctor, and Chris Messina (The Newsroom) as Danny Castellano whose advice to Mindy is "You know what would really look good? If you lost 15 pounds." What a charmer.

When: Monday, 9.30pm
Where: Four
What: New comedy from The Office actress and writer

Drama pick: The Secret of Crickley Hall

This haunted house thriller stars former Coronation Street actress Suranne Jones as Eve Caleigh and Tom Ellis (perhaps best known as Gary Preston in Miranda) as her husband Cam who move into Crickley Hall with their two daughters.

It's a year after their little boy, Cam, has gone missing and what was meant to be a move to escape the past turns chilling. You guessed it, the rickety old hall is inhabited by the ghosts of orphans who lived there after being evacuated from London during World War II.

Although this three-part series has lots of frights and things that go bump in the night, it is offset by the heartbreaking and sad story of a family dealing with the loss of a son.

When: Sunday, 8.30pm
Where: UKTV
What: Heartbreak in a haunted house

History pick: Killing Lincoln

Not to be confused with Lincoln, the film Daniel Day Lewis won a best actor Oscar for recently. This National Geographic docudrama is adapted from the 2011 book Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard and focuses on the death of the president in 1865.

Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott (the latter committed suicide during the making of this film), it is narrated by actor Tom Hanks and stars Billy Campbell (The Killing) as Lincoln, the man whose political acumen helped end slavery in America. Up-and-coming actor Jesse Johnson plays John Wilkes Booth, who shot the president at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.

When: Sunday, 7.30pm
Where: National Geographic
What: The story behind the assassination

Current affairs pick: Native Affairs
When: 8.30pm, Monday
Where: Maori TV
What: New host, new look, same focus

New host Mihingarangi Forbes, formerly of TV3, joins the Native Affairs' team this year and while the show also has a new set, its main focus will be on regional and national stories from a Maori perspective, plus international indigenous news. On the first show reporter Semiramis Holland was there when Tame Iti was released from prison and talks to him and his partner at their home in Ruatoki about his nine months on the inside. Meanwhile, kapa haka exponent Jeff Ruha became an internet sensation following his performance at the recent Te Matatini 2013 national kapa haka competition in Rotorua. Reporter Annabelle Lee-Harris catches up with him to find out how he's dealing with his newfound star status.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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