The Bear Family & Me - First episode review
Review by Jack Foley
HAVING been on the trail of black bears in Alaska myself, I tuned into the first of BBC2’s three-part nature series The Bear Family & Me with a heightened sense of anticipation. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
The show follows wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan as he travels to the Northwoods of Minnesota (by the Great Lakes) to further our understanding of the American black bear – a creature viewed as a monster by many, with a ferocious reputation for attacking humans.
With this in mind, Buchanan had to overcome his own fears as he sought to get closer than any camera-man has ever done before to gain unique footage of bears at play in their natural environment.
But in order to do so, he almost had to befriend the bears so that they could begin to ignore him and go about their daily routines without having to bear (pardon the pun) him in mind.
Buchanan did this with the help of Dr. Lynn Rogers, an American bear expert, who introduces him to Lily, a rookie mother bear with a fondness for grapes, who had only recently given birth to her first cub, Hope.
And so the scene was set for a tense and even belatedly tear-jerking episode in which Buchanan bonded and watched as Lily attempted to beat the odds and get her cub through the first months of spring.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the episode was equally divided between Buchanan himself and the bears… a potential pitfall that could have made for frustrating viewing if you wanted to see a programme 100% devoted to the bears themselves.
But fortunately, Buchanan proved himself to be an endearing, and even funny guide… someone who possessed a very human, everyman quality about him despite being offered such a thrilling and unique chance.
Having been fortunate enough to see black bears feeding from afar myself, one can still only imagine at the combined sense of exhilaration and fear that Buchanan still must have felt at being so close. One swipe of a paw, one firm bite and his documentary might have been over (let alone his life!).
Hence, you had to chuckle early on as Buchanan sought to get close, only to back away once Lily started coming towards him; or wince as he turned his back on her briefly to pet Hope, only to get a ‘gentle’ bite reminding him that he had over-stepped his boundary.
Hence, while more footage of the bears may have been welcome, the episode balanced humour with dramatic tension well, keeping you hooked to see how Buchanan would continue to fare.
It was ironic, then, that the biggest drama came once the cameraman had left to go home for a few months to spend some time with his own family. For it was then that Lily and Hope became separated and when Dr Rogers and his team were left to take centre stage (thankfully, with members of Buchanan’s camera team still in place).
The final moments of the first episode saw Hope’s chances of survival begin to fade as she was left alone to fend for herself in the wild, starving and alone.
Incredibly, Dr Rogers found her and then had to decide whether to let nature take its course or intervene… mindful even of the fact that a forced reunion with Lily may not be successful if the mother bear no longer accepted her cub.
The scenes in question were nailbiting in the extreme… and even tear-jerking as mother and cub were eventually reunited in an outpouring of human and bear emotion. It was a spellbinding end to an absorbing first episode that promises even more drama to come.
If you haven’t yet tuned in, then The Bear Family & Me continues tonight (Tuesday, January 4) and Wednesday (Jan 5, 2011), on BBC2 at 9pm. It’s beautifully shot extremely captivating viewing.