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Movie Night Recommendation: “When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time” PBS Special

PBS has a long history of quality educational on air content, in large part because it is a non-profit operation funded from donations by educated nerds with disposable income. Contrary to many “documentary” channels, it is not beholden to advertisers or corporate profit motivations and as a result produces some of the best documentaries with art, animation, cinematography, and direction quality far surpassing anything that can be seen on History or Discovery. (Again, there is no need to maximize profit margins, so they make those dinosaur renders look reaaaal nice.)

“When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time” is a 2 hour documentary that explores many lineages of other “relict” organisms that may be easy to take for granted today but represent the last evolutionary survivors of hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history. It is a fantastic dive into how the world around us came to be, and also a revelation in just how recently we started to answer these foundational questions about the world and the creatures around us and how much we still have to learn. It’s beautifully produced, and with no ad breaks or stilted suspense baits, it’s 2 hours of pure educational entertainment. Animation, artwork, and cinematography like this would never show up on cable TV because a dollar spent on production is a dollar less in profit for the executives. Consuming more educational content about natural history and evolutionary biology is both a great way to pass time with family and a cheap and painless way to make yourself a better researcher. Only through constant exposure can you learn the language of scientific research and natural history, both of which are pillars in studying any organism extinct or extant.

Pakicetus render, from “When Whales Walked”, PBS 2019

I watch these programs with PBS Passport, which is a $5 a month subscription that gives you unlimited access to literally decades of both educational and fictional programming, such as This Old House which in my opinion is light years ahead of anything you can find on HGTV regarding home improvement and longtime standard bearers of documentary movies like Nova and Nature. I strongly recommend getting it if you’re thirsty for more quality documentaries and are tired of the reality TV bend channels like Discovery and Animal Planet have sold out to.


If you prefer to buy or rent the individual show, there’s an option for it on Amazon video, but the PBS Passport costs the same and gives you access to more stuff. And c’mon, does Bezos really need more of your money?


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