Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cities of the Underworld

I've been watching this show via Netflix. So far i've seen the first two discs. AFAIK there is only one season on DVD.

My favorite episode so far has been the first one, which was about Edinburgh in Scotland. Some of the large underground spaces there came about when older neighborhoods were built over in an effort to expand the city's usable space. The spaces were then used by all sorts of criminals, some of whom shouldn't have been considered so, like the bootleggers. I always enjoy stories of people flummoxing unjust legal institutions.

The episode about Paris' "catacombs" (they're not primarily burial places, as that term implies) was good, too. I hadn't known that the Romans mined there, or how they did it. The open, trench-style mines wound wherever the veins of ore took them, and these mines became the "catacombs" as the city grew over them. (In its ancient Roman aspect, this links to Gallic War, which is a nice bit of personal cross-media synchronicity.) Now large swaths of it are used as a canvas by more adventurous artists, and there's a subculture of urban spelunkers who explore it all.

The weak points: It feels like it's written with the assumption that people will be tuning in and out over the course of an episode. After each commercial break, lots of information is repeated. I reckon that's not bad, it's just something that becomes more obvious, and less useful, on DVD. Considering how long commercial breaks often are on cable, i can understand why the producers include these recaps.
Also, the banter of the host can get repetitive. You could make a bender-inducing drinking game out of this show. Taking a drink everytime the host said something like "We're 60 feet under the streets of Blahblahville, and the pedestrians above don't even know what's under their feet!" would get you schplitz pretty quick. And sometimes it's obvious that a fair number of people do know it's there, as evidenced by the presence of graffiti or electric lights.

Still, it's a cool show. I dig underground stuff: movies like The Descent, ERB's Pelucidar, Hollow Earth paranormalia, etc.